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“Underdogs” Ch. 23 from Trampled Grass

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything that looked more out of place. As my grandpa said, “It was like a saddle on a pig.”

Brand new shiny playground equipment in the midst of a ragtag barren refugee camp. I walked over to a swing set and pushed on it. It was cemented in the ground. Just as I thought: They’re planning on these folks being around awhile.

The chains on the swings were looped out of reach of any youngsters. Why were they even there?

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That is what’s called “a toothy smile.”

These refugees weren’t from South Sudan. They were Kakwa people who’d fled nearby the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another alphabetsoup-named rebel group was stirring things up, forcing these people across the border.

The playground equipment was donated by Save the Children. I have no fault with making the lives of these children easier, and a good swing can be therapeutic. Good for both the swinger and swingee.

I spent many good Louisiana afternoons swinging our three boys.

“Come on, Daddy, do an underdog.” (An “Underdog” is when you swing someone high and run under/past before the swinger returns.)

It just seemed so odd, as the camp leaders spelled out a long list of needs: closer clean water, mats to sleep on, better nutrition for the children, and Bibles.

I glanced at the playground items and could only shake my head. They’re sick from sleeping on the ground but have a new merry go round!

Go figure. T. I. A. This is Africa.

I’ve put that northern Uganda refugee camp on both my GPS and bucket list.

I’m going back one day with my grandchildren. I’m going to introduce them to some beautiful African children. And we may swing all afternoon under the brilliant African sun.

If I feel up to it, I might even try one more underdog.

Postscript 1

May 2014

On our first visit to this camp, we were with five local African church leaders.

Each had been a refugee at some earlier time in their lives. They’ve gone back and started preaching points in each of the eight cluster camps, including Adologo Camp.

Preach and heal.

Preach and heal.

It’s what our leader Jesus did.

They’re not building playgrounds but sharing the Good News.

They’ve co-ordinated drilling three boreholes in the Camps as they continue sharing about Jesus who called himself The Living Water.

God is working and often allows us to reach our hands in and take part.

When you come see us, I’ll take you to Adologo. In the meantime, you might want to help the ministry our friends are starting there.

I’ll take you there. And if you’re agile enough, we’ll let you try an Underdog!

Postscript 2 August 2014

It’s eight months since my first trip to the lonely playground.

There’s now a protective wooden fence around the area. A rough wood shelter has been built as well as latrines.

Dozens of children were running in the playground. Others sit in the shelter learning English and singing.

This is designated as a “Child-Friendly Space.”

Only approved adults work within the area.

The children are temporarily free of the troubles and stress of refugee life.

It shows how wrong I was to pre-judge the worthiness of this project. Most of the camps now have a child-friendly play space.

Sometimes, it’s good to be wrong and stand corrected. Let’s play!

 

Save the Children’s Child Friendly Space

 

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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