Carnival of joy

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Angeline Loh serendipitously stumbles on a festival of games for refugee children that  turns out to be the closest thing to peace on earth that she has experienced.

Flipping through the photographs I had just developed of refugee children having fun on the grounds of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur, I couldn’t help smiling at the memory of that event.

It started fairly early in the morning of 15 June 2007 and went on to… I don’t really know what time, as I did not stay till the closing. Still, the experience was one I’m glad I did not miss. In my idealistic dreams always, I had always wished the world could be that way.

It is hard to describe the feeling of mounting joy and peace that makes one’s eyes water – to see children of all shades of skin colour, age, shape and size, from different lands, gathered in one small place having so much fun. It was like an international kindergarten, a garden of children, where children were the flowers in bloom. The children, like children in every corner of the world, were ‘discrimination-blind’, which I believe is their natural state. World leaders have much to learn from them.

A free for all!

Looking back, I realise that I cannot recall hearing any of the children cry or bawl that day. Even the babes-in-arms and the toddlers seemed happy and contented. The only ‘noises’ around were the shrieks of delight and laughter – the sound of children having maximum fun.

Some of the 250 children were dressed in their best traditional wear, some in Malaysian wear, others in western style clothes, and some very casually, being well prepared to get themselves messed up and dirty. It was a ‘free-for-all’- that made it rather interesting.

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UNHCR staff ensured the children had loads of fun. They organised several games, including a ‘Tug-of-War’ and a disco dance session with food, drinks and presents for the children.

A ‘Bouncy Castle’ and ‘Inflated Slide’ increased the kids’ delight. It was fun just watching the children scrambling onto the ‘Bouncy Castle’, jumping up and down and being ‘bounced’ around in total disregard of their finery. There was a small boy in a suit and little girls in lace and ‘chiffon’, but that didn’t worry them one iota. Another little boy in a long sleeved shirt clambered up the ‘steps’ of the ‘Inflated Slide’ with his friends dressed in T-shirts, only to roll down the slide onto the grass. They were gradually joined by the younger children and ultimately some over-grown ‘kids’.

Another game was to ‘water bomb’ certain UNHCR staff and volunteers. Quite a number of teenagers took part in this!

The ‘Tug-of-War’ involved real kids as well as the over-grown ‘kids’. It was interesting to see how frequently the losing side got its own back and ultimately won. The disco-dancing session was spiced up when three boys got hold of a blond or pink wig and a black one that had been used by the Clown. Their natural dramatic creativity and imagination just ran riot. Putting these on they pretended to be members of a rock band, switching character by exchanging the wigs with one another and dancing around. It was magnificent, delirious fun!

Imagine peace on earth

Seeing the children and their antics made me think of my own childhood playtime with my siblings, cousins and the neighborhood children. We were also children of all races, as we lived in government quarters in the heart of town in Penang.

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We were completely unaware of any kind of social, economic, racial or even religious differences. We were also ‘discrimination-blind’. No social or other stumbling blocks or barriers got in the way of our fun and games.

Sadly, we have lost our ‘social blindness’ and innocence in our adulthood and now face a reality that we try to protect our children from. Yet one day they too will be faced with this same reality we have created and passed down. We do not know if faced with this reality, they would lose their childhood prematurely.

I left the grounds of the UNHCR that afternoon with the lines of John Lennon’s “Imagine” going around in my head… “Imagine there’re no countries…   nothing to kill or die for… And no religion too…”

This precious half-day with the refugee children was the closest experience I have encountered of peace on earth – and it is something I will treasure forever.

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