What makes this village so desperate is also what makes it promising. It is isolated and neglected, and therefore cohesive. Unlike most other regional villages, several of the teachers, including the headmaster, are also residents. The leaders are personally invested in the children’s future.
We drove about two and a half hours and walked another 20 minutes down a ravine and then up the side of a moderate mountain. We could hear songs of celebration as we climbed closer. The lush jungle finally gave way to a clearing where most of the residents were gathered in their Sunday best. The location of the homes and schools are similar to those I experienced earlier in my trip, but there was a greater sense of desperation about the village. Perhaps it was because the structures are more densely grouped together.
The natural resources surrounding the village seemed plentiful. Plantains, coco, coconuts, yams, avocado, palm berries (for palm oil), cassava and bananas all grow just outside the door. There is a beautiful waterfall visible high above the village that feeds a stream of fresh water. The beauty of the natural surroundings is a stark contrast to the living conditions.
Yesterday’s program was similar to that of the day before, but the impact was no less significant. While Empower Playgrounds’ engineers worked through electrical challenges, I was welcomed as though I were a long lost friend.
When we finally unveiled the whirl around 4 p.m., the children swarmed around it as they did at the other village. Their joyful laughter made me all the more grateful for the partnership we have forged with Empower Playgrounds. The vision is brilliant: to provide education through play. Ben Markham recognizes that education is one of the few gifts that can be perpetuated beyond a single generation. If you teach children to read, there’s a good possibility they will teach their children to read.
As I finally walked back down the mountain, I couldn’t help but wonder if those children know what hope is. I knew they were happy and enjoying play for the moment. But had they recognized the opportunity they had just been given? The lanterns, with their illumination powered by joyous play, can open up a new world. I have hope for these children, because the circumstances that make their lives so desperate now are also what make their future so promising.
Today I will visit a village where the lanterns have been active for more than a year.