(Ralph Ogden is a 66-year-old lawyer and the veteran of two Humanity Through Baseball trips.)
Children's laughter is one of the most precious emotional experiences we can have, and laughter and smiles were what we produced when we went from one secondary school to another in and around Ahero, Kakamega and Masai Mara. The biggest smiles always came from young primary students who seemingly walked out of their classes to watch their elders learning this very strange game called “baseball.” At every opportunity, they crowded around us, laughing and smiling, touching our hair because it was so strange, wiping their hands on ours to see if the white would come off ours, giving us the “high fives” they saw us give the secondary students, and mugging for photographs. Everyone wanted their pictures taken and whenever we took one, we were continually mobbed by children hoping to see their own image on the back of the camera. Letting the kids take their own pictures brought cries of ecstasy from them.
Secondary students were more reserved, and at first, because they were concentrating on learning this new game, were quite serious. When they began playing, the smiles and the laughter appeared, and they roared with pleasure as they hit the ball and ran the bases, and even on the infrequent occasions when they actually caught it. And when their teachers and principals participated, their laughter was complete: they cheered and jeered like life-long afficionados of the game. The primary kids all lined up as close to the base paths as we'd let them, and cheered when the older kids hit or caught the ball and laughed uproariously when they missed it.
Children in rural Kenya have virtually nothing: no toys, no games, no television, no movies, no internet, no form of outside intellectual or emotional stimulation. Most of them have never been away from their home area and have no notion of what the world is like beyond those borders. To them, we strange looking white people represented that outside world.
We brought a number of soft rubber baseballs with us and when we had a few of the younger kids by themselves, we passed them out. The kids went wild. Once, I misjudged the need and handed out a few when I had a crowd of kids, and was mobbed by others trying to get the few balls we had with us. But that's ok: it illustrates the magnitude of the need rather than something bad about the kids. Once I saw a few primary girls kicking rocks at each other, soccer fashion, and took them a few of the rubber balls. They laughed and kicked the balls and threw them up in the air and bounced them like kittens playing with a cat-nip mouse. Their faces were pure joy. We could easily take hundreds of dozens of these balls and still not fill the need.
Primary school kids continually asked for our empty water bottles: they were, after all, something to hold onto, some form of stimulation, something to play with, and they were useful for carrying water from remote water sources to their homes and schools.
Soccer would be popular if kids have soccer balls. We saw several different groups of kids who had home-made ones: they collected plastic bags from the road sides, compressed them into a rough ball, tied it tightly with string, and voila! A make-shift soccer ball.
These trips are among the most rewarding things I've ever done because the kids are so grateful for even the smallest amount of attention and the most insignificant of gifts. The need is so great, and our contributions, although important, are but a drop in the need bucket. We can and should do so much more.
I'm sixty-six years old and 2012 was my second trip to Kenya with Humanity Through Baseball. The experience was so profound that I'll go as long as I'm physically able.
February 20, 2012