One thing I learned on a recent trip to Rwanda is that no matter how different we may seem to be from one another, there are universal traits that clearly define us as one species. When a common language is taken way, people have to communicate in a more basic, but somehow more profound way – a smile can convey what would’ve taken a paragraph to explain and a laugh can bridge miles of distance.

Rwanda Photos courtesy of Heifer International

This was a profound truth I experienced while playing with kids in Rwanda. Just imagine for a moment what your reaction would be when a group of strangers arrive at your house, people who look different than maybe anyone you’ve even seen before, carrying strange equipment and speaking in a language you cannot discern. You might be a cautious, maybe even suspicious. But the children we met in Rwanda welcomed us, with smiles and handshakes, and were always up for a little playtime.


Play is truly universal. Bring out a soccer ball or a beach ball and there is no need for words to explain what to do next. Simply kick the soccer ball or toss the beach ball and a game will begin on its own – we just know how to play with one another.

I got to play with these wonderful kids in Rwanda because I was in country with a film crew. I was the distraction so the film crew could do their work without attracting crowds of local people. I got to initiate games, bring out the toys – beach balls, soccer balls, Frisbees – or sit in a circle of kids drawing with crayons. That was my job and it was a joy to do.

toys

Every interaction I had with a child, or adult, who joined in a game, who ran in a race with me, who laughed as I attempted to draw a lion – every single interaction – was a powerful reminder of how much we all have in common. All children love to play. All children love to laugh. And all children are curious about the world they live in.

I’ll carry these kids with me for the rest of my life. They will always be a reminder of our common humanity and of resilience. Even when they had nothing, these kids made toys out of tape, cloth, wood, and paper. That to me signifies the resilience of the human spirit – that we will find a way to play. And we will find a way to play together – even if we’re from opposite sides of the world.

 

Author

Leigh Wood