Clowns bring rare laugh­ter to trau­ma­tised Ro­hingya chil­dren

The Nation - - ASEAN PLUS -

RO­HINGYA BOYS and girls shrieked with delight as the clowns jug­gled hoops and som­er­saulted, their red-nosed an­tics pro­vok­ing a sound rarely heard in the world’s largest refugee camp – chil­dren’s laugh­ter.

The clowns have been pro­vid­ing much-needed lev­ity in the crowded Bangladesh camps, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of trau­ma­tised Ro­hingya chil­dren spend long days in bleak and dif­fi­cult con­di­tions.

Mo­ham­mad Noor lives with his mother and three sib­lings in a makeshift shanty in the teem­ing Ku­tu­pa­long camp, where a lack of food and water means a con­stant strug­gle to sur­vive.

The 10-year-old fled Myan­mar last month af­ter his fa­ther was killed in bru­tal vi­o­lence by the army that the United Na­tions has likened to eth­nic cleans­ing.

The im­promptu cir­cus in a dusty clear­ing is a wel­come dis­trac­tion from the hor­ror at home.

“It is hi­lar­i­ous. I have never seen any­thing like it. My friends and I were just laugh­ing and laugh­ing,” he said, as a quar­tet of painted clowns per­formed skits be­fore a huge gath­ered crowd.

Theatre groups in Bangladesh have a record of us­ing “drama ther­apy” to lift spir­its in the most de­press­ing of cir­cum­stances.

One troupe per­formed for the sur­vivors of a fac­tory col­lapse in 2013 that killed 1100 gar­ment work­ers, while another hosted shows in a small vil­lage in Bangladesh’s south that lost nearly 50 chil­dren in a tragic road ac­ci­dent.

In the Ro­hingya camps, where many lie sick mourn­ing the death of fam­ily and loss of their home­lands, laugh­ter is sorely needed.

“Our sole aim is to bring laugh­ter to the Ro­hingya,” said Rina Ak­ter Pu­tul, a vet­eran ac­ro­bat and the lone fe­male mem­ber of the group.

“Mak­ing peo­ple laugh is a tough job, es­pe­cially for those who lost their par­ents in the con­flict.”

The UN es­ti­mates 60 per ent of the more than 600,000 refugees to ar­rive in Bangladesh since late Au­gust are chil­dren.

Many crossed the bor­der alone from their vil­lages in Myan­mar’s west­ern­most Rakhine state af­ter their par­ents were mur­dered and com­mu­ni­ties driven out by state­sanc­tioned vi­o­lence.

Laugh­ter as medicine

Char­i­ties on the ground say chil­dren are in dire need of emo­tional and men­tal sup­port af­ter en­dur­ing such trauma on their jour­neys.

“I am sure our show will live in their mem­ory for some time. It won’t erase their scars, but it will boost their con­fi­dence,” said Faker Ali, an ac­ro­bat who has worked in drama ther­apy for more than two decades.

But it’s not just the chil­dren who ben­e­fit from the vis­it­ing per­form­ers.

Among the spec­ta­tors who flocked to a re­cent show were count­less el­derly Ro­hingya refugees, clap­ping and smil­ing as the ac­ro­bats whirred rings and bars.

Life has been a gru­elling quest to sur­vive for older gen­er­a­tions of the state­less Mus­lim mi­nor­ity. Many have es­caped past pogroms in Rakhine and lost fam­ily and friends in bit­ter cy­cles of eth­nic vi­o­lence.

“We hardly have any fun,” said Ne­sar Ahmed, 38. Even dur­ing ma­jor Is­lamic fes­ti­vals and wed­dings, there is lit­tle in the way of en­ter­tain­ment, he added.

“Life in Arakan [Rakhine] is grim,” Khairul Amin, a 63-year-old grand­fa­ther, said as a bois­ter­ous crowd, young and old, jos­tled to meet the vis­it­ing clowns.

“There is no tele­vi­sion and no cinema or theatre. And there is this con­stant fear you’ll be killed or ar­rested by the mil­i­tary.”

Seated for the show with her youngest child on her lap, Re­hana smiled and laughed, say­ing: “Never in my life have I have seen such fun.”

The Bangladeshi theatre group “Drama Ther­apy” en­ter­tains Ro­hingya refugees at the Ku­tu­pa­long camp in Ukhia on Fri­day.

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