The Friendship Games is an annual retreat held each autumn for deserving kids, who will benefit from the experience in ways that will span the course of their lives.
Cool, misty mornings beneath the shade of enormous, old trees, their branches hatching together above you, letting the early filtered sunshine speckle light upon the well-worn path before you. The smell of breakfast, subtle and wonderful, cutting through the crisp autumnal air, before the mellow warmth of the day sends you to the pitch, where you find a group of your peers waiting with a ball, ready to play. Running until your cheeks turn rosy and breathless, you throw yourself down on the grass, exhausted, but feeling as though everything is just as it should be. Taking trips to important buildings you’ve heard about, but never seen. Getting a glimpse of your nation’s history, and realizing you fit into something so wonderful and complex, like a small but essential piece of an enormous puzzle. Meeting new friends who come from places you’ve never been to before, funny sounding and strange at first, perhaps, but you discover, to your amazement, that they love horses as much as you do. Or comic books. Or repairing old, broken-down radios. That they’re also having a hard time at school. You talk it through around a bonfire, roasting marshmallows. Or you don’t talk, you simply laugh and listen to everyone’s stories, play the games that seem silly but you secretly enjoy beyond measure. You find, incredibly, that you’re gifted at archery. That your heart thumps with satisfaction when you’re kicking around a football. That you distinctly loathe volleyball. And when it’s over, you find that in knowing you’re not alone, in reveling in the simple, unutterable security of perfect inclusion, you feel stronger, more whole, somehow. The newness and the excitement of it all has settled into old, familiar joy. You can’t wait to go back. You’ll spend all year comforted and buoyed by these memories. School trips. Sound familiar?
Most of us have school trip experiences that flicker into memory now and then and send us running for our photo albums. We’re eager to reimburse ourselves in those slower, simpler days; we want to share them with our children, show them there’s more to life than a computer or a tablet screen. But the reality is that, increasingly, trips away from home are becoming more difficult with each passing year, that as areas become more industrialized, as costs of living sky-rocket, field trips become much more of a rarified privilege that fewer and fewer children are able to experience. These activities are cost and time prohibitive, and children from economically depressed areas are almost never able to participate. We want to change that.
In 2013, we began to think about new ways we might engage children from disadvantaged communities and transform their lives in positive ways. We kept coming back to the idea of a summer camp-like activity – to be held in the fall, when the weather turns crisp and lends itself to a variety of both outdoor and indoor activities – and what better way to give these kids a life-changing experience than a retreat designed specifically for them? With this in mind, the idea for The Friendship Games was born.
The Friendship Games is an annual retreat held each autumn for deserving kids, who will benefit from the experience in ways that will span the course of their lives. We select a new location each year and spend several days playing games, learning new and valuable skills, enjoying outdoor activities, taking excursions to see local sites, and forging new friendships. The Friendship Games represents everything the NDF believes in: positive change, integrity, growth, and health.
So far, we’ve held three Friendship Games, and are currently organizing our fourth, to be held beginning this Sunday, October 2nd through Saturday, Oct 8th, 2016. With special thanks to the Princess Charlene of the Monaco Foundation, Cajetina Municipality, Aleksandar MN, Lavirint, Nutribullet, Eucerin, and many others for their help and support, we are continuing to give children the types of experiences that will remain in their memories forever: laughter at sunset. The thrill of a goal. Collecting jewel colored leaves on a walk through an ancient forest. Looking up at a wide expanse of starry, night sky. Close your eyes. Can you just see it?