One New Tire Swing – Volunteer Chris Cheek

One new tire swing tied in a tree ….. 35 kids Grade 1 – 7.  Will chaos erupt, who will dominate – boys, girls, older kids, younger kids?  Who gets the swing & the song began – “If you want to play the game, make a line – make a line. If you want to play the game, make a line – make a line.”  And as if it was choreographed by the great Balanchine himself the line formed & with one fluid motion the first child crawled on top between the ropes. The song continued, “one, two, three, four, five – one, two, three, four, five – one, two, three, four, five – game over.” With the singing of each number the tire moved with a push, a push, a push, a push, a push – three sets, game over, the larger kids stopped the swing & down came one kid & up went the next one in line. As the song began again the kid just getting off went to the end of the line to wait for their next turn.  No one argued, no one yelled she got more pushes, no one said its my turn – my turn, no one broke in line. It was shared equally by all. I stood watching & singing with the kids as they counted each set of pushes & the call of “game over.”  What just completely blew me away was there was no discussion about how they were going to be fair – they just sang & played – equally for all. (As they completed the first time through the line the older girl that had been pushing the younger kids got her turn.  She crawled on the swing & three of the smaller kids pushed her. )

This moment at the new tree swing was just one of many over the past two week as I helped with a mission trip of 32 people for 11 days here at Project Canaan.  I find myself trying to find a way to write about the experiences in a way that doesn’t become the next new epic mini-series yet will enable me to share with you the stories of the journey of the past two weeks.

As I have walked the journey through my mind I have found three distinct stories I want to share – Ebholi Methodist Primary School, Service & the Rhythm of a Mission Trip to Project Canaan. I will write about these over the next three weeks.

Today the story is about Ebholi Methodist Primary School. This story should logically be the last of the three because of where it falls in the week schedule but it is the one that has opened another layer of my heart in my love of serving in Swaziland at Project Canaan so it moves up the ranks to first told.

Ebholi Methodist School is almost a two hour drive from Project Canaan near the Mozambique border.   It is a primary school, grades 1 – 7 and has about 250 students.  Like all Swazi schools there are no buses. The children all walk to school.  I’m sure as you are reading this your thoughts go back to a time when we had neighborhood schools & almost all kids walked to school. The joy & laughter as kids make the walk back & forth certainly brings back a time when our life was much simpler & less complicated. For many Swazi kids that walk is done in the dark, early morning hours & late afternoon sunsets because that walk may be as much as an hour to an hour & a half one way. For 35 of the kids at Ebholi that walk is between 4 & 5 hours – one way. Can you imagine?

After dealing with high absentees from the kids living in the furthest & most rural areas, the Head Teacher converted two class rooms of the unused preschool building into a boarding hostel for these children, one for the girls & one for the boys. Each week the kids come to school on Monday morning & leave on Friday afternoon to make the five hour walk to their homestead.

I could give you statistics of kids at the school that are single orphans or double orphans, I could tell you how most get one meal a day, I could tell you about a five year old with no teeth at the school, I could tell you how the school is in the malaria zone of Swaziland & there are only 3 mosquito nets for the children living there during the week. I could write on how unfair & unjust it is but I’m not – I want to tell you about the one weekend each year the 35 get stay over & play with the people that come from the U.S. & Canada to serve with Heart for Africa at Project Canaan.

The last two days of the eleven day trip are spent with churches that Project Canaan partners with to address the hunger & poverty of the orphaned children in the church community. One aspect of this partnership is in conjunction with our service trips. Each service trip finishes up with the teams spending two days at one of the churches. We work side by side with the community (keep in mind church communities are children & a few very tired grandparents) planting a garden,  playing with the children, providing & helping prepare lunch & attending church on Sunday. Ebholi is the one exception because it is a school, it is the one weekend that 35 kids get to stay over the weekend & just be kids – playing & have fun. Project Canaan works with the school through its partnership with Feed My Starving Children.

On Saturday morning our team of nine was up early & loaded on our quantum (large van) filled with seedlings, fruit trees, soccer balls, nail polish, paper, markers, sugar beans, beets, oranges, Manna Packs, maize, pens, pencils, crafts & a lot of love.

After our drive to the eastern edge of Swaziland through acres & acres of green sugar cane we finally made the turn down the dry dusty dirt road that would soon have us arriving at Ebholi Methodist Primary School. As we drove through the gate a tiny little Swazi lady Mrs. Similane- the deputy principal of the school met us. I would like to say that she was filled with joy & excitement to see us but she looked tired & worn out. There was a slight smile in her greeting but mostly she looked like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. We later learned that she was sick but rather than disappoint the kids she found the strength to stay for the weekend so the kids could have their one weekend of the year to just be kids.

With a few directions from Mrs. Similane the kids had the seedlings & fruit trees & were off to the garden.  The kids all knew before they could play the garden had to be planted. They did not waste any time completing the task & as much as our team tried to help we seemed to be slowing them down. They were on a mission – two days of play were waiting for them.

The garden planting was happening as three of our team slipped away on a tree hunt – our big surprise for them was the tree swing.  The only resemblance of play is the one soccer pitch on the side of the school campus.  My heart sank as I realized how many kids were going to have to share the one swing. My lesson of the weekend – what I thought was going to be kids being selfish & all wanting to swing turned out to be a lesson in selflessness as you read in the beginning.

Soon there were kids playing soccer, nails being painted, hair being braided, great works of art being created with the paper & markers. Games being played, songs being sung & dancing by all.

Lunch prepared in the huge black cauldrons over the open fire – beans & pap filled the empty bellies. The best treat of the day – each child got an orange.  An orange – an orange accepted with two hands. Two hands – a sign of respect & appreciation.

As the day came to an end my soul was filled with quiet anticipation because I knew Sunday would soon be dawning & I would be back at Ebholi Methodist Primary School and in the face of 35 I would see the face of God.  Innocent, orphaned, vulnerable, filled with joy & laughter – the face of God.

We arrived Sunday morning & were greeted with the love of each child. The day was filled with smiles & laughter. Selfies on all of our phones – selfies to be a reminder of the two days of play – two days where a five hour walk can be forgotten, two days filled with soccer, swinging, dancing & play. The day passed quickly & soon the kids needed to rest because Monday morning was a day of testing & Mrs. Similane wanted them to be at their best.

I’m grateful for Project Canaan, Mrs. Similane, the teams that come to serve, my boys & friends that encourage me & have supported this journey – a journey that has given me an opportunity to play at Ebholi Methodist Primary School – to love & know kids that have a five hour walk to school & live a life of selflessness.

The journey continues……


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