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.”