I spent the first 11 years of my life in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Most of my daytime was spent outside and I played everywhere around the camp and neighbourhood - in the garden at home or the neighbours’, around the markets, school playgrounds and the natural bushlands. There was no limit to where we could go. African people have a culture of living together, and almost everyone in the camp knew each other. So, the kids in the camp would always play together and spend most of the day outside.
We had no equipment, toys, or such things, so we used to gather sicks, leaves, and any other things we could find at home or around the neighbourhood. One of our favourite places to go during the rainy season was a river at the border of the camp. The place had a HUGE water tank with overflow pipes at the top, and it was used to store and supply water to the community. During the rainy season the tank would overflow, and all the kids used to go under it and play in the overflowing water coming out through the pipes. To this day I still remember how nice and cold the water was, and how happy the children were. It was so fun and refreshing that the adults also joined.
Another thing that we loved was playing sport. We had a big field at the primary school and the community would hold multiple sporting events and competitions throughout the year. In other times, the neighbourhood kids would still gather, make up their own teams and play. We played the traditional sports such as basketball, football (soccer), volleyball, badminton, netball etc. However, there were many games that we made up and played in other spaces around the field. Some of our favourites included circus or gymnastics manoeuvres using the trees and other natural resources around us. I also remember that my father used to offer free Karate class weekly, kids and the community members participated.
Although my childhood had no surveillance cameras and the modern toys found at shops, I felt as if those things existed in my life, but in a different form. I had barbie toys, cars etc., but the difference is that all the kids made their own toys. I guess I can say we were all crafty, designers, engineers and great innovators. We built mini houses and played in them. We made stoves out clay and metal material found around the neighbourhood, plates out of wood and leaves, cooked and ate together. We made clothes for our toys and ourselves and wore them. We built manual mini cars and rode them around the town and down hills. We made handballs, furniture, bricks out of dirt, brooms, anything that was needed we found a way to make it. The best part about this is that we used the nature around us. We also learnt how to handle possible dangers such as snakes and poisonous plants. It all came naturally.
Our parents were always busy and working, and most importantly the trusted us to stay safe and also the land on which we were living. Everyone knew each other and so we kept an eye on each other. Where my mom could not see, the neighbour or a community member could see me and thus my parents could have peace in their heart.
The childhood I had has helped me to make decisions in my adult life. I can always find a way or answer to something I don’t know. I have been able to interact with everyone and in a effective way. Fitting in when in a new place has not been a difficulty because that is what my childhood was about.
Nowadays children are told not to go here and there, and that there is danger everywhere. Consequently, kids take on this fear and lock themselves up inside the home all times. Kids don’t have any social skills anymore and find it hard to get along with others. Depression is on an exponential rise. Society had made kids fear their neighbours and community members, even though they have never met. Communities are not collaborating and instead isolating themselves in their homes.
I hope that the future community is a fearless place that kids feel safe and free. People need to communicate and connect. How can you know the great neighbour if you don’t go out and socialise? I hope that the future kids will be able to play together outside and acquire the naturally occurring skills that come from free play and interaction.