When I drive Jack and Julia back and forth to various practices, I notice that this country has such an abundance of programs for youth. In our suburban county alone you could be involved in basketball, volleyball, soccer, football, fencing, swimming, baseball, softball, lacrosse, ballet, tennis, karate, and a hundred other things I don't even know about, all with opportunities for coaching, for competition, for developing identity and networks of friends. There are summer programs, camps, weekend events, casual leagues and intense "travel" teams. There are lines of cars dropping kids off and picking them up from various events at the rec center.
Then there are church groups, Sunday schools, midweek youth meetings, trips, service projects, Bible studies. Music. Instruction. Role models. Constructive and creative and supervised fun.
Sometimes I think of the scads of kids around our house in Bundibugyo, for whom there is no real meaningful adult input through most of their lives. Once they are weaned their moms' focus inevitably returns to the garden, to eking out enough food, to carrying water. In school the classrooms are so packed a teacher might only offer a swat of a switch. Kids are too much on their own, to find sustenance and entertainment and education and life. Out of probably 100,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 18, I would guess that no more than a few hundred a year ever even get to play an organized sport of any sort, watched and cheered by adults.
There is good scientific evidence that involvement in sports delays sexual debut, a strong protective factor against AIDS. We're not talking about chalking up resume points for achievement, about winning trophies or outdoing the neighbors. We're talking about a minimal boost to bring a child alive and intact to adulthood. To teach a generation some self-discipline, some connection between effort and outcome (a tenuous connection with the school system). To teach the value of team effort, one that cuts across clan and tribal lines. To reflect back to kids some of the glory with which they were created. To say," you matter".
What a powerful vehicle for the Gospel, one that does not subvert indigenous churches or take away from a growing post-colonial independence. How could we invest in the youth of Africa in a way that develops body and soul as well as mind? Even as I'm grateful for the opportunities my kids are now having, I'm even more aware of yet another gap between them and all their peers from Bundibugyo. Which is one reason I guess it is good to be in America for a while, to catch a little vision for what could be. Even if the fact that it isn't there yet leaves me sad.