Rohingya Children Enjoy Rare Moment of Laughter

Bangladesh - Rohingya Crisis - Refugee Children Enjoy Rare Moment of Laughter

Kids watch a play put on by Oxfam, Arts for Action and Unite Theatre for Social Action designed to teach them how to keep clean and stay healthy

Most children living in these camps witnessed horrific acts of violence last year.  Laughter and play are so important for children’s growth, development and healing.
Melissa Eveleigh
Arts for Action

*Names have been changed

Hundreds of Rohingya children enjoyed a rare moment of laughter as they watched a play designed to teach them how to keep clean and stay healthy in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

The camps in Cox’s Bazar are now home to close to a million Rohingya refugees, many of whom fled their homes in neighbouring Myanmar last year as they were burned to the ground.

There are reports of children, like those pictured here, watching in horror as their mothers and fathers were subjected to unimaginable violence, including rape, torture and murder. Children were also killed and maimed.

Now living in the camps, children are faced with another deadly threat – disease.

There are high levels of acute diarrhoea, respiratory infections and skin diseases like scabies – all related to poor sanitation and hygiene.

The play, which was organised by Oxfam, Arts for Action and Unite Theatre for Social Action (UTSA), taught children how to stay healthy and avoid the spread of disease.

Minara*, 28, watched the play with her son Ershad*, 10

Minara said: ‘I always tell my children to wash their hands after using the bathroom, but they don’t always listen to me.

‘I could see they really enjoyed the play, so hopefully they will remember to wash their hands all the time now.’

The children made giant puppets which were used by the actors to demonstrate how flies transfer bacteria from faeces to food.

‘I had no idea that flies carry germs,’ said Minara. ‘As soon as I go home I’m going to cover the food and tell all my friends about it so they can do the same.’

Ershad, ten, said: ‘I loved the play. The best bit was seeing the flies buzzing around the poo and the food. I see now that flies on food are bad.’

Melissa Eveleigh, director of Arts for Action said: “Most children living in these camps saw or experienced horrific acts of violence last year and have very little entertainment where they now live.  Laughter and play are so important for children’s growth, development and healing, especially in this context. It was so uplifting to see kids exploding with laughter and pumped up with excitement during the performance.

“Discussions afterwards showed all the new things that the children learned about hygiene, including what germs are, how flies carry them, and why it’s important to wash your hands.”

Oxfam is providing toilets and a sewage facility to help treat harmful waste, but the organisation warned that to stop the spread of deadly diseases, more needs to be done to ensure families know how to protect themselves.

‘It’s all well and good installing toilets and sewage facilities,’ said Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s advocacy manager in Cox’s Bazar, ‘but if people don’t practice good hygiene, diseases will spread like wildfire in a crowded setting like this.

‘There are already huge numbers of patients suffering from severe diarrhoea – this can be deadly for children.

‘It’s important that we not only help their parents to keep them safe, but also make sure children themselves understand how their own hands, the food they eat and their muddy surroundings can be sources of bacteria that could make them sick.

‘The future for these children is very uncertain, but while they’re here we’ll continue to work to keep them and their families safe from disease – and with projects like this, hopefully we can bring a smile to their faces too.’

Oxfam says more aid and resources are needed to improve conditions in the refugee camps beyond the basics and keep people safe. At the same time, it is urging the international community to work together to find a long-term solution for the Rohingya – including diplomatic efforts to end the violence and discriminatory policies in Myanmar that are the root cause of this crisis.