Desolation is defined as extreme sadness caused by loss or loneliness; the condition of a place or thing that has been damaged in such a way that it is no longer suitable for people to live in; the state or condition of being desolate. It is the word that comes to me over and over while driving through the camps. The place is desolated, as are the people. The loss, the loneliness, the homesickness hangs thick in the air. There is great damage here in hearts and minds. Every family has a story. Every person within the family has one too. There are too many stories for all of them to be heard. It is collective sorrow. Many of them have never known peace. The tribal conflicts in their country have been going on for decades. The way I feel reminds me of after 9-11, when we were all shell-shocked and hurting in unison. Slow to trust. Feeling threatened. On high alert. In mourning. Trying to find our footing. Trying to rebuild lives with gaping holes in our hearts. Think of a day like that, only it lasts for forty years. What would it do to life? Change it drastically. I see that hollow shell-shocked look here. It is heavy. The physical loads they carry along the road are a representation of what their hearts are feeling. They are burdened under the weight of life. Hope is not visible in many faces or places. Even when talking about surface level things there is sorrow behind the eyes. Yet, they move forward.
At first glance, the primary school blends into the landscape as just more makeshift buildings in a countryside full of them. They are not much to look at, but they are sturdy pavilion-like structures that serve their purpose of protection of the students from the sun and the rain. It is what is inside those pavilions which stirs my heart. It is the teachers’ dedication to the students. They see the kids as the future of their country. They face insurmountable barriers and a lack of resources, but they continue on. They are fueled by a spark of hope. I want to bring some oxygen to that spark while I am here.
On the property of the school, the children planted some mango trees in the fall. In the midst of a desolated land full of dust and heat, the tree team has faithfully watered those trees. They come even when the school is not in session to tend to the mangos. Each tree is small, and enclosed in a little cage type structure to protect them. If you look down into the enclosures you see green hope peeking back at you. They are small representations, but they are taking root. The students who are tending them have a reason to get up and moving…they have ownership. It is a beginning.
Peace for their country is being born here, in this one school, in this one settlement, in this one camp. It seems a drop in the ocean. Why even try? How will this really effect the whole situation? They are just kids, after all. Ahhh, but do not undervalue what God can do with kids who have hope. Kids who are resilient, who know what war feels like and do not want to return to it. They are moldable clay in God’s hands. Designed for purpose. Thoughtful and pensive. Old souls in young bodies. Those who are learning how to dream about the future.
The teachers have been entrusted with this generation under some harsh circumstances. They are passing the baton to this scared and wounded generation. They are teaching them to think of the future, since they have never thought past today. They are planting dreams, like the mango trees, and watching them begin to grow. It is still too early to tell how many will survive, but with the right care there is hope, which is something that has been missing until they escaped the warzone. Mother Theresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Each drop poured by the teachers into each child at Hope Primary School reaches each family and builds communities, which heals countries, which can change the world. Do not underestimate the power of the mango trees.