Liberia Day 3: West Point
I have mentioned West Point in a number of my posts. West Point is the most challenged places in Liberia and is considered one of the most dangerous slums here in Monrovia. It has the worst living conditions I have ever witnessed and it’s impossible to fathom living here. There are over 75,000 people living on top of each other in tin structures. The pollution on this small peninsula is so bad that the land has actually started eroding into the water. 70% of the population is under 17 years old.
We visited this community a second time to have a session with a different group of kids from various parts of the community. After getting out of our van, we wandered through the narrow alleyways. I am sure the citizens of this community were wondering what the hell we were doing there but as soon as you said “hello” to them or introduced yourself as you passed (essentially treat them with the same dignity and respect you would want), their faces lit up. They immediately said hello back and would respond, “Yeah, hello! How are you?!”
As we got closer to the sand field, a designated space on which the citizens are not allowed to build, you could hear the yells and cheers of hundreds of kids. I looked around and saw, amidst the garbage, dozens of groups of kids in circles or groups playing games, led by their community coaches. I quickly ran to one of the groups and joined in the game, getting a number of curious glances from the young children (and a number running to grab my hands first) as the coach explained the game, “Happy Harry”. The game was simple: you stand in two lines, with one person in the middle. Everyone on the lines were sad and the only person who was happy was the one standing in the middle. Then this lone individual would yell out, “HAPPY HAPPY HARRY!” and the two lines would have to dart and switch sides. Those who were touched were in the middle and became happy and could then tag the sad ones in the next round. You could hear the screams of joy and see the eyes light up as the game progressed and by the end, everyone was in the middle. The point of the game was: “Each and every one of you can make those around you happy. Spread the joy!”
I was so engaged with the games and watching the kids with pure pleasure on their faces, all connected with one another, that during a game I stepped right in human poop. All the kids around me noticed and started pointing, laughing and yelling, “You step in poo, you step in poo poo!” while the leaders quickly covered it with sand. I was grossed out for about a second before I realized… this is where they play every day. These are the conditions in which they live. They don’t have a playground that they can go to; they use garbage as toys, building balls out of plastic bags. I started looking around more and the joy that these kids were experiencing, the lessons they were learning, and the engagement that they were getting… all of this would not happen in this community without Right To Play. They had interaction with these incredible role models, the community leaders. Just from talking to the community leaders, you can feel their passion and love for the kids. You feel the need for Right to Play to offer these kids some hope. Every single one of them has an incredible story but one thing is consistent among all of them: the amount that they care for the children of their community and the acknowledgement that it is the responsibility of everyone, including them, to protect them and provide them with opportunity and hope. That is what keeps them coming back each and every week and keeps them asking the Right to Play office what more they can do.
There were still hundreds of kids huddling around the circles, in torn clothes if they had clothes at all, desperate to be involved. There was one girl in particular who started following me. She could not have been more than 3, with these big brown eyes staring up at me and every time I looked down, she would giggle. I became so overwhelmed by this feeling that I wanted to do more: I had to do more to get more resources to this community and other communities like it. At first, you might wonder what play can do for these kids here but kids are the same around the world. Kids love to play. It’s a human right and when you introduce the opportunity to learn using play as a tool to teach, it becomes a very powerful tool. It is so eye-opening, mind-boggling and life-changing. This experience is difficult to put into words but I would not trade this experience for anything. When I go home (which is far too soon), I know my need and desire to make an impact will stay with me.