Children playing. With those two words what comes to mind? Perhaps the gleeful noises of kids chasing each other across a lawn, the happy laughs as legs pump to make the swing fly just a little higher, or the stretch of smiles across faces as they make that exhilarating free fall down a slide. Across the globe those sounds and smiles may be the same but the setting can change drastically. When I traveled to Tanzania my first summer in 2017, yes, I saw children playing but with pieces of rubbish, running but in between alleys, laughing but unsupervised. So, the dream of a playground was born perhaps then, but it was tucked away into some deep corner of my mind. You know, the corner of our brains where we hide dreams we are scared of, because we think there’s no way they could come to fruition. You know, that forsaken part of the mind where we catalog dreams we mistakenly believe are too big.
However, after three months of surpassing my own expectations and my own hopes by creating a dental hygiene room, instituting a water sanitation program, and restructuring curriculum at a local nursery school I was done believing that change was impossible. That first summer in Tanzania there was no one around to tell me, even with good intentions, to downsize my dreams or to shrink a project and out of that freedom came such good things! My motto that summer with each new daunting project and innovative change was “If there’s no one to tell me I can’t, I’ll tell myself I can.” For a bigger project it would have to be “When someone tells me I can’t, I’ll have to figure out how I can.” So, as I stepped onto my return flight to America in July of 2017, I left Tanzania only physically, as the wheels were already turning in my head for the next summer and a potential playground.
The real work would begin as soon I stepped off the plane in June and the clock started ticking. Two weeks to complete the job and complete it well. It truly was two weeks or bust as leaving before the playground was constructed was not an option and neither was a different return date. Day one began with a joyful reunion with the kiddos at the nursery school as the director and I paced the grounds choosing the perfect spot for the playground in front of the outdoor one-room classroom. Next came meetings with the contractor to choose a playground layout and negotiate prices. He chuckled sitting across from a spunky 23-year-old girl in braids, saying I was their youngest contractee ever. Another moment for chuckling came at the bank. I remember waiting for three days with bated breath for the money to transfer from America to the business capital in Dar Es Salaam and then to the bank in Usa, just praying that it would make it to the right account because if not, this was all over before it could even begin. I can still recall the moment at the bank when the full amount was withdrawn, and I was handed a stack of vibrantly colored money almost one foot tall (as it is about 2,000 shillings to one American dollar). I remember swiftly stuffing the cash into my backpack and hustling out the door trying to walk as unceremoniously and casually as possible back to my house. Phew definitely the longest two mile walk of my life and I breathed a huge sigh of relief and grateful prayer as I stepped over the threshold into my bedroom to safeguard the funds.
The next days consisted of teaching the children and doing arts and crafts with them, while meeting with the contractor. Days passed, and nothing was happening on site, as it was at offsite locations that the wood was being cut and treated and the metal was being welded for the swings and posts. This part was definitely nerve-wracking as the clock was ticking and I wouldn’t be able to believe that anything was completed until I saw it with my own eyes on site. It was a super exciting day when the metal and wooden posts finally arrived and pieces of yarn were stretched to be used as guides for where to dig the holes that would hold the posts. The yarn had to be moved a few times and a vegetable garden had to be relocated to provide a space for the swing set but finally we were all happy. We now had about four days to compete the construction and some nights I would pass the nursery school and still see lights shining and hammers hammering away. I checked the progress daily and hourly, suggesting an extra slat or rail there for safety, attempting to help with a handsaw (Ha that lasted about one minute, my arm strength/skill was definitely lacking) and participating in the exciting moment of pouring a part of the cement foundation.
One major snafu occurred a few days before I would be heading home. I arrived at the nursery school and saw that only one slide had been installed and there was a gaping space where the other was supposed to be. I inquired about it and it quickly became clear that there had been a miscommunication on the company’s part and the quotation they’d requested and passed on to me had mistakenly only been for one slide, not the two. Here in the US I could have called a customer service representative who may have said “This mistake is on us and we will fix it at no charge as it was our fault.” But there was no HR department here and no profit cushion for the company to fall back on to rectify the mistake without the workers taking a hit. The foreman looked deeply disturbed as he informed me that yes, they were in error. The worst part was that the cost of the second slide would have to come out of everyone’s wages, but he informed me that they were willing to do that. I asked for a minute alone to think everything over. This would cut everyone’s wages almost in half, and I instantly knew that couldn’t be an option. I didn’t come to take away resources or wages, to do that would be completely defeating my purpose. But what to do? A slide was the most expensive part of the playground as it was the one piece that had to be imported and the funds were mostly gone, used up in the price I had been quoted. But God always makes a way, doesn’t he? A British nurse I had become really close to last year while volunteering was visiting the construction site with me that day and pulled me aside and said “Bri, I’ll totally pay half if you can cover the other half.” I couldn’t believe her generosity and after a quick mental calculation that indeed my savings account could cover the other half, it was a deal. I happily went to inform the men that their wages would not be cut, and their relief was palpable—hammers started swinging with more vigor and grins abounded on everyone’s face. What were the odds that my friend would have returned to Tanzania a year later and choose this exact day to visit the construction site and that she would be willing to assist in the time of dire need? I was so grateful for her selflessness and reminded of the perfection of God’s plan and ability to make a way yet again.
Fast forward to June 30, 2019. Tomorrow my plane left at seven p.m. and I had to be on it, yet hammers were still hammering. My stomach was in my chest as I fretted would the construction be done in time. A few days of rain had slowed progress but that night, Praise God, the work was declared complete! The next day, seeing the completed playground in the daylight is a feeling I can’t really put into words. Balloons were hung, and colorful streamers formed a boundary around the playground (this was a lovely surprise done by the two teachers at the nursery school) as we all gathered outside in the sprinkling rain (yes it was raining again!). I was handed a pair of scissors to cut the streamers and officially commemorate the opening of the playground! As per usual I had a child in my arms and coupled with a dull pair of scissors, the “ribbon cutting” was definitely not as seamless as it looks on TV, but when the shiny pink and green ribbon finally fell to the ground, we all cheered! After a moment of bashful hesitation by the children came the joyful chaos as they rushed to explore the new playground, several sliding down slides for the first time ever in their lives! The only nearby playground for miles is located in the back of a bar, and parents often go to drink and pay for their kids to have access to the playground. However, the new playground is a great free alternative in a much better environment so that’s a really exciting aspect of the project.
P.s. I head back to Tanzania in less than a month and as always there is an exciting project coming up that you can partner with us on!
To all who supported the playground project with funds, prayers, and well wishes I thank you from the bottom of my heart.