Thailand: Reflections from Children’s Day for urban refugees

03 April 2017

Children and parents gather together at the venue patiently waiting for the event to begin (Damrong Cheenmuang/JRS)

Bangkok, 3 April 2017 – 13 January 2017 was not an ordinary day.  The staff of the JRS Urban Refugee Program in Bangkok held an event to commemorate Children’s Day in Thailand.  Children of urban asylum seekers and refugees, along with their parents, were invited to participate. Games, art activities, ice-cream, snacks and an entertaining mime show were prepared to create enjoyment and excitement for them, not to mention the balloons, colorful decorations, and also plenty of prizes!!

For JRS staff, the day represented a chance for us to allow children the delights of childhood. For the children this was a precious opportunity, for many of them are excluded from opportunities for education and recreation in Bangkok. They do not get the chance of living a normal life as a child. They are away from home and close families, living in cramped apartments with only one bed for the whole family. They have few toys and experience the same fears and worries like their parents have, instead of experiencing joy.

To begin a short video was played in the hall of King Rama IX , in order to pay respect to the beloved King, who passed away in October last year. Thailand’s National Anthem was also played and all the people in the hall stood up.  Some of these refugee children were able to sing the anthem quite well although Thai is not their first language.

Four activity corners started simultaneously in the event: two games (Ping-Pong Ball corner, Throwing corner), a writing activity and an art activity. In the Ping-Pong ball corner children were to carry a Ping-Pong ball on a spoon from the starting line to the other side and back without it falling. In the Throwing game children were to throw a triangle-form stack of plastic cups with a small soft doll. They were so excited while participating in these games! In the Writing Corner and Art Corner, the excitement of the children was the same.

When the children lined up to claim for games prizes, it turned a bit chaotic. The crowds of children tried to get as many prizes as they possibly could, grabbing all kinds of toys that they wanted, even though they had been told to queue. Some parents also got themselves in the act. Any proper distribution of prizes was practically unmanageable. Some children who did not get the prizes cried or went away disappointed. Some parents and children who had got something were asking for even more prizes!

After the break for food, snacks and ice cream, the children gathered back to the hall to watch the mime show. The mime show was great entertainment for both children and adults. Everyone was transfixed and joyful while watching the funny performer with his tricks with the smiles on everyone’s faces priceless.

This Children’s Day event left me and other staff members with important reflections and lessons. What I mean is not about the technical preparation or the organization of the event, but it was about the people we serve.

Despite the chaotic crowds scrambling for prizes, the children pulling down balloons full of excitement, and other events I saw real joy in the faces of the children and parents.  A woman who came with her only daughter approached me personally, saying “Thank you for all you have done for my daughter and me. I am so blessed.” Her comment touched me!  Some of my colleagues also happily reported that the parents expressed their gratitude and happiness to JRS for holding the event for them.

Perhaps as human beings we should look through the eyes of our clients – the refugees – so that we are able to understand more about them. For these children coming to an event where there are colorful balloons, plenty of toys, a huge basket of ice cream, and a funny performer is like coming to an amusement park. They forget all stresses, worries, and fears and there is only joy, even if only for a day!

When you can make someone happy, feeling joy instead of sorrow, it is an invaluable gift. In return you get emotion, something that cannot be quantified or bought. Getting a genuine expression of gratitude from someone who comes from a situation of deprivation – like our clients – makes all our hard work worthwhile.

This is the wonderful thing of our work at JRS: to provide excellent service, accompaniment, advocacy, and to see the joy experienced by these children and their parents is our gift in return.

These children have shown to the world who they really are. They have proven that they are stronger, tougher, and more persistent through difficult times. They are excluded from education, but they become more motivated to get other learning opportunities outside a school setting. They have shown to the world that they are extraordinary children. They believe that they can change the world. They have more faith than others do, which helps them endure. To me, they have also changed my life.

By JRS Thailand Staff

“Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

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