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the best day

January 11, 2010

One of the best days of my life took place on the sidelines of a dusty running track in rural Kenya. I was on a volunteer trip, building a school in a rural community called Salabwek, and our group had been invited to attend a sports competition at a nearby school. Students had travelled to the competition from all of the nearby communities where Free the Children has set up programs. The children from Salabwek had invited us to cheer them on.

By the time the lorry stopped next to the school there was a crowd of children waiting for us. They were laughing and grinning and waving, which, by this point in the trip, we had come to expect. (We were spoiled – I spent a large portion of this trip overwhelmed by joy, and I have the humour and the determination and the generosity of these children to thank for that.) Before I reached the bottom of the ladder to get out of the lorry, a small girl had taken one of my hands in both of hers. By the time I reached the ground, she had wrapped herself around me, and rarely let go for the rest of the afternoon. “What is your name?” she asked as she led me down a grassy slope. She carefully repeated it back to me, beaming. And then, just as curious and demanding, she asked “how old are you?” I answered, and asked her the same questions. With the most important questions out of the way, we were best friends. She led me to the dirt track where hundreds of children were lined up around the field to watch the races. We were soon pulled into a game of Stella Ella Hola on the sidelines as students circled the dirt track a few feet away.

One by one, students dropped out of the race. When there were only five runners left, the mood in the field changed: clapping games were abandoned and the crowd around the track pressed in, leaning forward and standing on their tip toes to get a better view. The runners tilted inwards, rounding the corner into the final stretch of the race, and the crowd exploded. Those near the finish line erupted with cheers; those on the distant side of the track took off running across the middle of the track to see close up, first hand, who would be first to cross the finish line.

I can’t think of a vessel big enough to contain the joy and excitement and pride that thrummed around me that afternoon. I felt honoured and ecstatic to be there, and I was sure I will see some of those kids in the Olympics a few years from now. The amazing thing, the thing that struck me most about that day, was that the kids seemed honoured and ecstatic to be there, too. I couldn’t help comparing the races I was witnessing to the track and field meets of my childhood. For most of the kids I knew in Canada, a track and field meet meant, above all else, the exhilarating prospect of missing a day of school. But the kids in Kenya were intensely proud to run for their school; or to cheer on their classmates; or to race across the grass to see that vital moment at the finish line unfold, and to be able to say I know that boy, that’s my brother!; or to be that girl, running with bare feet, her skirt fluttering around her in the breeze created by her own momentum.

The following Mastercard/Right to Play commercial, on TV throughout December, was a wonderful reminder of that day for me. I don’t think anything will come close to capturing everything I felt and saw and was honoured to be a part of that afternoon, but this commercial captured a tiny bit of the joy of that day, and the incredible potential of the kids I am delighted to call my friends.

Echo hope is in no way associated with MasterCard or Right to Play.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 6:32 PM

    There is obviously a lot to learn. There are some good points here.

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