If you’re heading off to volunteer overseas, you’ll no doubt be spending time with children along the way. Even outside of schools and orphanages, it’s common to come across groups of children just waiting to have some fun. By carrying a few basic supplies, you can turn a chance meeting into an afternoon of games and hilarity. Here are some of our favourite things to pack when heading out and about in a community.
A Long Rope
I know it sounds like a funny thing to pack, but there are tonnes of games you can play with a simple rope and you can adapt them to involve any number of kids. They don’t take up much room in your bag, they’re relatively inexpensive, and you can get a game set-up in minutes. When one game starts wearing thin, just roll the rope back in and introduce another one.
The best thing about rope games is that they can be easily repeated in the school or community after you leave. The rope is not going to burst or break and it requires no ongoing maintenance to keep in working order. This one simple item can be used in so many different ways.
A Football and Pump
Throughout all our volunteer adventures, I’ve discovered that football is the universal language for fun. You may only have one child in front of you, but as soon as you pull out a football, children will flock from goodness knows where. It’s obviously easier to travel with a deflated ball, so remember to take a ball pump with you.
If you’re planning to leave the football behind (which I’m sure you are), make sure you leave it with someone who will ensure it is used by everyone. Footballs are highly coveted items in most developing communities, so gifting it to one child can often cause conflict once you’ve gone.
Over the years I have painted more faces than I can count, and it’s not just small children who line up to be painted. The cool thing about face painting is that it gives you a chance to talk with children one-on-one and it means that even the shyest of children can get involved.
When you’re washing things up at the end of the session, just be mindful of the water situation. In most developing countries water is a precious commodity, so use as much as you need, but no more.
I think every kid on the planet was born knowing how to play hacky sack, and much like the football, hacky sacks draw a crowd. Just be sure to take a bunch of them with you, as a lot of kids get fixated with improving their skills and before you know it you’ve got ten kids all wanting to practice their back kicks.
If you’re taking balloons with you, it’s easy to make hacky sacks by filling the balloons with sand or soil, tying a knot and trimming off the excess. While it might be tempting to fill the balloons with rice, keep in mind that for many families food poverty is a real issue. Using rice to make a child’s toy is wasteful and extravagant.
Okay, I hear you, a what? A parachute! Don’t panic, I don’t mean the kind you use when you jump out of a plane. I mean the kind you use for team building activities with children, adults and anyone in between.
Parachutes come in a range of sizes, but in my experience the 12ft size is the most versatile. It’s big enough to use with older children or larger groups, but it’s not so big that younger children get caught under the weight. Parachutes are a bit of an investment, which means its unlikely the local school or orphanage has one tucked away in a cupboard. By bringing (and gifting) a parachute, you will probably be providing a whole new experience for children, caregivers and teachers alike.
When volunteering with children, it’s best to focus on group games and activities, rather than toys or equipment for a single child. While it might feel nice to give one child something special, it can easily cause jealousy among those who miss out. In our experience, children get more joy from your engagement, than your gifts.