• September 19, 2014

Summer Camp in Senegal

by Jessica Anderson

“This summer, we left with 31 kids for the first of two camps this summer: aka “Mar Loj bundaw”. Mar Loj is the name of a serene vil­lage about 5 hours from Dakar, and “bundaw” is the word in Wolof for “small,” meaning that this camp was exclu­sively for kids 5-10 years old. And what a joy it was! Five days of games, dis­cov­ering other nearby vil­lages, playing at the beach, and learning to love these chil­dren that I’d already grown to love so much in an even more pro­found way. What a gift! That’s what the camps are really about: real­izing that every moment of camp whether it’s singing, looking for dif­ferent ele­ments of nature or building a sand­castle is a gift from a God wanting to show us his love in a very con­crete way.

N. is one of the even-year-olds at MarLoj bundaw who lives a street away from us. Usually dirty and always in the streets, N. isn’t one of the kids that comes run­ning into your arms and is in fact quite dif­fi­cult to love. He’s often impo­lite: he throws rocks at our door, throws a lot of tantrums during play­time at our house, refuses to rear­range the toys after he’s played, and other things of the sort. I know that N. suf­fers greatly, because of a dif­fi­cult family sit­u­a­tion. I’ve learned with frus­tra­tion that even though I’d love it if it were, the way to love N. isn’t through kisses and hugs. He’s even sim­pler. The way to love N. is really just to acknowl­edge that he’s there, by let­ting him know that we know he exists and that his exis­tence has a value to me.

This summer camp was a real time of trans­for­ma­tion for N.. The day before we left he was yelling at the door that he refused to come with us, and even the first day of camp he was throwing tantrums and refused to play with the other kids. In the ordi­nary rou­tine of camp, N. started to realize that he was loved and that we real­ized that he was there. Little by little he started to enter the water at the beach, to play with others, and in the end let him­self be loved. By the third day after the showers he put on clean clothes and lotion (a rarity for him), and walked with a heart-melting smile as everyone told him how hand­some he was. N. was never undig­ni­fied but some­times it’s nec­es­sary to re-teach someone their dig­nity, their love­li­ness. He was happy because he felt taken care of; he played because he felt secure in that he was loved. It feels like we put on this summer camp just for this one.”

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