On Ingenuity: Haitian Kids and Field Crews

On the property where we lived in Haiti there was a large field covered with a thick, wax-like plant and a small cleared out spot where kids would play soccer. The longer we lived there the more work we did to the small clearing and eventually it became a relatively large field. We made small goals, cleared the bushes out, removed thorns, trimmed trees, and picked up rocks all to make a better playing surface for the kids. When I say we I mean a few adults but mainly the kids that were playing in the soccer league that had been set up.

Each adult male on staff had a team with real jerseys, cleats, a team mom, the works. We transferred, bought and sold players just like in a professional league, with the money going into the pot for the champions (the kids not the coach). The kids took the league very seriously and it was pretty common to see a player walk out from the farmlands, where he worked with his parents, with a sack of corn and a donkey, tie them to a tree, set his machete down and start clearing the field of rocks before going back home for the day.

A hard rain usually meant that we would have to cancel the league play for the day. A hard rain the day before a game usually meant that the following day’s game would be in question. This was one of those latter days, the day after a hard rain. The field was all dirt and so it was still soft and muddy but the hot sun and the wind in the town where we lived often cured that problem in a matter of hours.

It was getting late in the day and the talk around campus was whether or not we would be able to get the game in. It was looking promising, the field was soft but would most likely be playable. Then a truck came rumbling down the road towards the campus. We directed it to drive around the field to drop off the propane tanks for the campus kitchen, which the driver did. On the way out however the truck driver sped off up the middle of the field. Never in the history of angry kids has there been an angrier group of kids than the group of about ten, twelve year-old boys were at that truck driver. He had not only left huge muddy ruts in the field that would dry that way, he also turned up more mud, leaving the field wetter than before. There could be no other result than the cancellation of the day’s games.

Well the kids were determined to play that day. They instantly formed a grounds crew that would have made even the most experienced professional crew proud. They grabbed buckets and shovels and started throwing dry dirt on the wet spots. And then came the true stroke of genius. When the wet spots were covered with dry dirt they found an empty fifty-five gallon plastic barrel that was open on one end. Three or four kids piled into the barrel. Two others pushed the barrel all across the field using it as a roller to tamp down the raised spots where dirt had been added. I was amazed, sheer ingenuity. These kids in rural Haiti had never seen a steamroller much less a roller on a professional sports field. They worked for the hours leading up to the game, covering wet spots, raking the field, removing rocks, filing in the ruts, and of rolling the filed flat in their makeshift rollers. The games were played that day.

How often do we complain that we do not have the tools, money, expertise, or other things required to do something that needs to be done? How often do we blame our shortcomings on the lack of some material object? This is not a problem that I saw in Haiti often as people routinely made due with little to no resources, especially in rural settings like the one where we lived. I saw toy trucks made of USAID food cans pulled behind little kids, wind generators made from boat propellers, car batteries, and pieces of a gas generator, and floats for fishing nets made from broken pieces of foam sandals. Sails for boats were made from old billboards, carts were made from axles of destroyed vehicles and tires were used as stepping-stones over wet areas on roads.

I often think that we have lost a lot of our creativity and ingenuity simply because of a lack of necessity. When every exigency has a tool, machine, device or app, we lose our ability to think creatively. In places like Haiti people make do with what they have and improvise, and often do it without complaining. I was constantly blown away by how people would solve problems in Haiti, problems that I thought were unsolvable. By many standards the people who were solving these problems would be considered uneducated or even dumb, but by another standard it would be people like myself who would be dumb, people who could not solve everyday problems like the people around me in Haiti did every day.

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Categories: Ground Ball Democracy, Various Things

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