Clowns bring laugh­ter to trau­ma­tized Ro­hingya chil­dren

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Sports -

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

The clowns have been pro­vid­ing much­needed lev­ity in the crowded Bangladesh camps, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of trau­ma­tized 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 told Agence France-Presse (AFP), 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.

In the Ro­hingya camps, where many lie sick or in­jured mourn­ing the death of fam- ily 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 per­cent 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 state-sanc­tioned vi­o­lence.

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

Ro­hingya are a re­viled mi­nor­ity in Myan­mar and are de­nied cit­i­zen­ship, ed­u­ca­tion and op­por­tu­nity by the Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment that re­gards them as il­le­gal out­siders.

Most have en­joyed few if any lux­u­ries in their lives - mak­ing the cir­cus per­for­mance all the more thrilling.

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

“Life in [Rakhine] is grim,” Khairul Amin, a 63-year-old grand­fa­ther, told AFP 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.”

Ro­hingya chil­dren watch­ing a Bangladeshi the­ater group.

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