Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kids Just Want To Have Fun

By Adam Flango
In Lusaka, Zambia
A child plays with toys outside of Chikumbuso Widows and Orphans Project in Lusaka
A large group of girls shows up and immediately the boys started to show off. They flex muscles, dance wildly and smile mischievously. Some shyly hide, peaking from behind a shrub before catching the young lady's eye and returning to safety. Others push and shove, jockeying for the fleeting affection of the pretty ladies waving at them.
Place that scene in any country and it fits. Boys act like boys, whether it is in Zambia, the United States or any other country. No matter the economic conditions or social status surrounding a child, the basic dynamic between children is the same.
I came to Zambia with the idea that it could be true, that children, in particular boys, fundamentally act the same at a young age. I had no sociological or scientific basis for my conclusion; no study that I read pointed me in that direction. Instead, it was through interacting my younger cousins and talking to those that work with children that peaked my interest.
In Zambia, we have spent time observing and interacting with children in a casual play setting and characteristics common on American playgrounds are present here as well. There are bullies shoving kids down, “nerds” watching from the outside and every character in between.
In every village we have visited, boys puff out their chests when they see our group. Like most children, they try to put on a show for us either through song, dance or even playing sports.

A typical soccer goal in rural village in Zambia's Central Province
Sport: The Universal Language
While playing soccer with boys at the Kasisi Orphange, there was an older boy named Moses who played the role of star player perfectly. He tried to kick harder and run faster than the other boys. At the age of seven, he was confident enough to run at me every time I touched the ball, the only child to do so. It was the same kind of cockiness that I had at his age.
Then there was another boy, who spoke too softly for his name to be heard, that played the foil to Moses. He was smaller and most likely younger than the other boys. Each time he ran for the ball, a younger boy shoved him down. Undeterred, he stood up and tried again. Walk onto any youth soccer or any sport field in the United States and you will find this same little-engine-that-could kid.
Though the resources are vastly different, it is fascinating to see the same kind of reactions and roles played by children. Kids playing on dirt without shoes in donated clothes still act like the kids playing on manicured lawns wearing the latest Adidas. Though I grew up exponentially more fortunate economically than the children at Kasisi, I recognized the expression on their faces when they kicked around the soccer ball. It's the same happy, carefree face I wore while playing soccer as a child and still have when I kick the ball around.
There are seemingly countless differences between Zambia and the United States: the size, the health concerns, the economy, etc. But next time you visit a foreign country, try to embrace the similarities instead of the differences. Visiting several villages and playing soccer at Kasisi opened my eyes to how similar people who appear different can be and it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

Adam Flango is one of 18 students from Ohio University, studying abroad in Zambia over winter intercession, about media, society, and governance, through the Institute for International Journalism.
He is a senior magazine journalism major.

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