The Smiles Never Left

Upon arriving at the Saint John Institute for the Deaf and the Blind, we stepped into a large, dark room, which lacked electricity because of recent power outages in the error. Stepping around, the team opened all the windows ringing the walls and paired with that light came a stream of smiling faces. They approached all of us immediately with eager faces. Signaling to us, we tried to convey the rough letters of sign language we had just learned before eventually resorting to writing on scrap paper. We talked about different sports and they asked us our ages and where we were from.

While some worked with the deaf, other players formed small circles with the blind. Passing basketballs around the circles in rapid succession, a contest to determine who passed the ball around their respective circle the fast was established. Constant cheers and loud exclamations rebounded off the walls of the room, and it seemed as though the kids’ disabilities evaporated into thin air. All that remained was pure bliss.

Following the game within the circle, the group congregated for the signing of an English hymnal. Singing in unison, their rendition was extremely moving. Witnessing the pure resilience of the group produced a feeling unlike any other, I had such a profound sense of admiration and felt an extremely powerful love for these kids.

Meanwhile, those working with the deaf had headed out to a basketball court, two hoops surrounded by standing, brown water which went up to our ankles. After wading through the mud, the game was played in bare feet.

Almost immediately, the kids asked us to play six-on-six, putting out their most adept players to challenge the newcomers. The smaller ones on the sidelines saw the bigger ones as extensions of themselves, watching eagerly and cheering as the two sides squared off.

The group undoubtedly had pride in their representatives,  and the way in which the duty of representing the entire group of kids was placed on the shoulders of these six, along with the way they embraced their roles, was extremely cool to watch.

A couple of minutes into the game, we began to invite everyone to participate, with the smallest kids joining the team from PA. For the next hour and a half, a constant pattern of back-and-forth was commenced, with relentless offense being produced from both teams. Everyone was involved, with the younger kids attacking the older ball handlers with tenacity every defensive sequence.

For that short while, we forgot where we were, who we were, our differences, and played for the love of the game. We didn’t think of disabilities or circumstances, all that was prioritized was putting the ball in the hoop.

Being out there… there was nothing I could compare it to. Seeing these kids absorb our passes and try to put the ball in the basket, they were our teammates and our brothers. That in and of itself is a bond I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

When it was time for the kids to have lunch, those from PA began to depart. However, a small group chased down Matt and I and signaled “Thank You From Our School.” This was a truly special moment, and I wondered whether when we were on the court, and seemed to forget our differences, what thoughts were racing through the kids’ minds. Such a gesture was unneeded, and although it may seem small to some for Matt and I it was something we would never forget.

The kids we met today were inspiring. Not only born into unfortunate circumstances but alsohaving the burden of a life-altering disability, the group was unbelievably charming and all seemed extraordinarily happy to be there. Compared to some of the individuals we met at the American School these kids had nothing, but they lived their lives as if they had everything. I think I speak for everyone when I say that this experience undoubtedly made us not only count our blessings but reconsider our definition of happiness and what we need to be happy. On a stone court, in a bare feet, surrounded by flooded dirt, the smiles never left these kids faces, and, invariably, the smiles never left ours. 

Niswarth Program3 Comments