The Banana-Leaf Ball by Katie Smith Milway is book is based on a real refuge camp in East Africa and a boy whose life got better when the sport of soccer was introduced to the children. The coaches from the organization Right to Play taught kids how to get along by playing together.
The main character, Deo Rukundo, an East African boy is forced to flee his home because of a war in his country. He ends up separated from his family and keeps running deep into the forest for safety. After many weeks where he lives on dew drops, wild fruits and leaves he finds his way to a refugee camp in Northwest Tanzania. Frightened, homesick and alone, he prays for the well-being of the rest of his family.
With little resources in the refugee camp bullies emerge and vandalize those living there. They steal and intimidate everyone and they especially target Deo. Remy the gang leader is menacing and poses threats to all those he encounters.
One day a coach arrives and gathers up the children to play a game of soccer. He hesitates about joining in the game but his excitement overcomes him and he touts his excellent soccer skills in front of the coach. Very impressed, the coach makes Deo captain of the “shirts” team. As the game progresses brand new feelings of comradery and acceptance emerge from the players as they work together as a team to score that winning goal. The kids start to laugh, forget their worries and relax. They area transformed into” kids” once again.
In the following days the kids gather at Deo’s house and he teaches them his soccer moves and how to make a ball out of dried banana leaves. Most importantly they open up to each other about their feelings and share their experiences both before refugee camp and the life they are living now.
This book is based upon a true story. It is heartwarming and inspiring. It points out that truly frightening, seemingly hopeless situations can indeed be turned around into something positive and bearable for those caught in such tragic circumstances.
The book is a perfect catalyst to get kids talking about others less fortunate and the social justice issues that surround refugees all over the world. It allows them to discuss the handling of bullies and the value of sports, teamwork, sharing with each other and acceptance.
I received this ARC book from Kids Can press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.