Friday, February 09, 2007

The Joy of Play

When I first started visiting the Shantou orphanage four years ago, it appeared to be a “city bound” institution, meaning that it was right in the middle of a very busy commercial area without a blade of grass in sight. The aunties didn’t want the children to play out in the front because there was a very busy road with lots of cars and trucks speeding by, so the orphanage had made a small concrete area downstairs where they put a metal swingset. Each day the kids would go down to this area and try to crowd onto the one airplane swing. I had seen up to three kids on the swing at one time! The one thing about swinging on concrete, however, is that it isn’t very forgiving when you slip. I have more than one photo of a beautiful child with an enormous goose egg after face planting to the ground. I knew the orphanage was trying their best to give the kids a place to play, but each time I would visit I would look out at the busy traffic and wonder how in the world we could do an outside play area that would be safe.

One day we were looking out from the third floor when we saw a nice patch of green grass behind the orphanage. When I asked who owned it, I was surprised to learn that the orphanage did, but that there was no way to get to it without walking all around the busy city block and coming up the rear. There was no way the aunties could do that with toddlers and so it had never been used for the kids. After talking with officials there, however, I learned that only one huge brick wall stood between the orphanage and that plot of grass. Working in partnership with Civil Affairs, we came up with a proposal to finally give the kids an outdoor place to play. The city government agreed to tear down the wall and fence the grassy area, and LWB agreed to provide a playground for the children. I always love when we can work together to do a great project for the kids.

Just this past week, the playground officially “opened for business”. The aunties said when the children were first led out to the grass, many of them were shy and just stood staring. But it only took a few moments for them to watch the older kids having fun running and playing for them to join in. Now I have heard they are “true pros” at play! Finally the children have a safe place to slide, swing, and laugh together. Thanks to everyone who brought the joy of play to the kids in Shantou. Their smiles say it all!