And On the Sixth Day, They Played

Tonight, I watched a moving video. It was less than two minutes long, but in that short glimpse my “practical” side, my hard head, grasped an aspect of “soft-ware” that I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past. 
In World Vision, we talk a lot these days about “software.” Having worked in IBM’s computer mainframe division, I like this term, because it evokes something we all understand: that the best hardware in the world can’t accomplish anything without good internal software.
In humanitarian work, the software refers to the human element that makes the “hardware” actually work. One example among many: World Vision borehole wells last far longer than the norm because we organize community members into trained Water Committees who collect user fees so they have funds available for repairs when the pump inevitably has a breakdown. It’s probably an overstatement to say that Africa is “littered with abandoned handpumps” by well-meaning groups who only focus on the hardware pipes and pumps, but I’ve seen enough of those myself (including one earlier this month in Malawi) to know the frustration which leads to such sweeping statements.  Without the software, the hardware is soon useless.
Tonight the software I witnessed was very different, closely related to the terrible earthquake which rocked Nepal just six days ago.  It’s a simple video report showing a Child Friendly Space which World Vision has already launched in Kathmandu, with several more to follow in hard-hit rural areas. So, even as water, food, tents and other basic necessities are just now being distributed by World Vision and other helping groups, on this sixth day after the quake, a Child Friendly Space had already sprung into being.
A “Child Friendly Space?” The term sounds so benign, maybe even evoking a slightly paternalistic smile and a mental “Gee, isn’t that nice.” I remember when I first heard the term, after the Haiti quake five years ago. What did it even mean? I’ve always liked the concept of a safe place for children to hang out, yet it seemed very high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs in an emergency situation, to the point of being something nice-to-have, maybe 6-12 months after the basic needs are met.
But this video changed all that for me. Maybe it was because the Innovation Fund just made a grant for our health programs which are starting to incorporate Early Childhood Development into their goal of “child wellbeing”, recognizing that mental and emotional development are also critical to a child having a healthy future.
Watching, I realized that for these kids in Nepal traumatized by the earthquake–perhaps having lost a home, a parent, friends… for them, even five days of complete disorientation and insecurity in a makeshift relief camp is an eternity. Seeing these children engage, smile, play and process grief in a safe and supportive place, I realized what a huge part of their emotional and mental recovery these things represent, practically as important as physical healing. 

Enjoy this short glimpse from today’s “grand opening” session… and notice the energy and engagement of the children, and how they behave at the end of just the first day.
 If you didn’t already know their situation, their traumatic context, you’d think you were simply watching an energetic after-school program.  But in a context where there is no school, no playground–maybe no house or even family–it’s a remarkable sign of hope, of life…
At IBM, I was never much good at writing computer programs; but I’m a huge believer in the power of software.
April 2015

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