Earlier this year I had the privilege of being in Ghana and staying at an orphanage called House of Hope for three and a half weeks. I’ve been on quite a few mission trips in my life, but this one was unique for a number of reasons. First of all, I was there on my own without any traveling companions or people from my culture to share the experience with. Second of all, on this trip, more so than on others, I was living like the local people live – eating the same foods they would eat (which meant stew and banku every night for dinner and rice with oily tomato sauce for lunch). And while many aspects of the trip were eye-opening, I never stopped being fascinated by the different types of things the children came up to play with – many of them from nature.
A leaf with a thorn or a small branch poked through quickly turned into an airplane when running into the wind. Stalks of bamboo became stilts. Disposed-of wheels with long sticks inside became “a car.” And an old tire was perfect for rolling along. These simple “toys” brought great joy to the children and provided hours of enjoyment. In fact, I don’t ever remember one of the children telling me they were bored. Of course, with their regular chores (which included everything from hand-washing and ironing their school uniforms to helping in the kitchen), there wasn’t too much time for getting bored.
We’ve all heard the story of (or perhaps have been!) the child who is much more fascinated with the box that his/her toy came in than the actual toy itself, and sometimes I wonder if by giving our children all sorts of fancy toys to play with, we aren’t actually hampering their creativity and imagination. There are all sorts of wonderful things one would never come up with as play-things given other options. But if those options aren’t available and a child is forced to do so, the possibilities for play-things around the house or outside are endless. (I should mention here that I also saw a man using some palm fronds to hold up his pants when his button broke. The same man quickly constructed a fire to cook a snake caught on the compound and used a palm leaf as a “lid” for his cooking pot. Such ingenuity from people of all ages!)
Perhaps for fun make a point of putting all the toys away one day and seeing what else you can play with! Before throwing out a plastic bottle (which were akin to gold to the children I met in Ghana!) or anything else for that matter, see what fun things you might be able to do with it. Take a walk around the house and see what “toys” are waiting to be discovered in your own backyard. And of course, when you do want to buy something for your child, think about play-things that encourage imagination — like puppets and art easels/drawing pads. These types of “toys” are not only great for the creativity, but also allow the child to express themselves. I’ll never forget the little girl who I met in South Africa. She didn’t have a ton of toys cluttering up her room, but when she went to show me her drawing pad, it was full, and her eyes lit up with the turn of each page.
The children in Africa taught me a great deal about resourcefulness and imagination. They also taught me about the joy that comes with new discoveries and from making something out of what seems like nothing. We could learn so much from them.
To learn more about House of Hope, visit: http://www.houseofhopeghana.org