To Play with Purpose

In 2021, Back2Back Co-Executive Directors, Todd and Beth Guckenberger, wanted to empower field staff around the world toward innovation on the front lines. They wanted to encourage teams to use generously-given funds for specific projects that would benefit the children and families served. The project was coined Dolphin Tank after the well-known Shark Tank. Staff were asked to submit videos pitching their ideas for special purchases, trips, or materials needed to better serve vulnerable populations. It was such a success that in 2023, Dolphin Tank 2.0 was presented to staff teams, and this year, the focus would be Play with a Purpose. Staff were asked to submit objectives to promote play and connection among the children and families.

Nigerian staff submitted many videos for Play with a Purpose ideas and three were chosen! Grace Belari, Back2Back Nigeria staff, wanted to plan and host a carnival for the younger children in programming. “I wanted to hold an event for children ages one to ten, because they do not have as much structured programming designed for them like the teens,” explained Grace. “I wanted them to have space intentionally set to play, have fun, and remember they are known and loved.”

The carnival included a bouncy castle, music played by a DJ, cartoon characters, and a wide variety of foods like rice, chicken, salad, popcorn, ice cream, cotton candy, and drinks. There were several contests in which many of the children won gifts like packs of pencils, toys, sharpeners, and erasers to help motivate them. The children enjoyed dancing, playing, and eating with their peers and experiencing an afternoon where the focus was centered on them.

At the conclusion of the day, each child was given a gift pack containing snacks, a fruit drink, and bubbles to take home!

At the beginning of July, Elizabeth Gunji, Back2Back staff, organized a family reunion for the children and their families as part of her Dolphin Tank initiative. 25 children and 37 family members were in attendance. It was a time for children to connect with their parents, siblings, and extended relatives, and the intention of the day was to provide personal time for families.

The day was filled with conversation and adventure. The families were put into four groups and were asked to partake in a scavenger hunt! “I saw each of the groups sharing and learning from one another, but the biggest impact was seeing the parents follow their children’s leads during the games,” explained Grace. “It was a time for bonding and growing relationships, and you could see the joy on all their faces.”

Other games were enjoyed and then families took part in a round table talk in which they spoke encouraging words to their children and family members, and the children reciprocated by sharing their own inspiring words and messages for their loved ones. “It was a sweet time, and it also gave the parents an opportunity to share how they’ve seen their children grow as a result of Back2Back programming. It was a day filled with laughter and connection and a reminder to family, staff, and children alike that we can accomplish so much more when we do it together.

The final outing through the Dolphin Tank experience was a trip into the city for the Transitioning to Independence Program students! The trip was filled with laughter, music, and connection. One of their stops was to visit two former Hope Education Program students to help them celebrate their birthdays and pray over each of the young ladies. They then continued their journey to the city and arrived at their resting place. 

Once their bags were dropped off, they met a visiting team at a Mexican restaurant! The young adults dressed up nicely to experience their first tastes of Mexican cuisine. One  young lady was intent on tasting every type of food on the table – she was eager to try new foods and was excited to share her review on each new thing she tried.

Their second day brought hotel breakfast and had a small round table to discuss enjoying the moment they are in, to take responsibility for their lives, and to learn from every experience. Many of the young adults have shared this time as being their favorite of the weekend. They then visited Playzone where they were divided into two groups to enjoy various games and to connect. Together, they enjoyed lunch at a local mall and then were given time to spend some personal money. Staff appreciated the care and decision making that went into their purchases.

Their final day was one of conversation and feedback. Staff wanted to hear directly from the young adults about what they did and did not enjoy about the trip. While there weren’t really any complaints or challenges from the weekend, almost the entire group expressed wishing they had more time away together.

This is the power of global investment for vulnerable populations – new experiences are provided, core memories are made, and young adults learn more about the country they call home and how to navigate it.