An invitation to play from Handicap International

My name is Cheryl Shin-Hua Yeam and I work for Handicap International. I consider myself a citizen of the world—one who was born in Canada, raised by Chinese-Malaysian immigrant parents, who currently lives in Maesot, Thailand (where you will soon go!)

As a citizen of the world, I enjoy doing things all over the world—including dancing, singing, playing the ukulele, trying new foods and, importantly, working with disadvantaged children from various walks of life.

Mae La refugee camp context. Umbrella’s are a much needed item: it protects them from the sun and the rain.  Photo by Handicap International.

I’m looking forward to meeting you all, co-workers from IKEA Indonesia, and I’ll be happy to tell you more about myself and my work. I can already say that I am the Regional Technical Coordinator for Handicap International’s Growing Together Project, supported by the IKEA Foundation. What does that mean? It means my main role is to care about the quality of our project. Part of this involves inspiring and enabling others to be creative, innovative and effective in using inclusive play and inclusive arts to improve children’s lives, learning and opportunities.

I do this job because I believe in social justice, in children’s rights to participate as active members of society, and in children’s rights to play—no matter what their background or disadvantaged circumstances. I keep doing this because children continue to show me how resilient they can be in the face of poverty, war and exclusion. You will spend four days in refugee camps along the border with Myanmar, and I hope you will share my respect for the resilience of people living there, and especially the children.

You are supporting Handicap International’s Growing Together Project through the campaign. I hope the IWitness visit can convince you of the importance of this project. After all, life is about more than just survival and meeting our basic needs. What gives greater meaning to life is connecting with other humans, a sense of belonging and realizing one’s potential. One important way to gain those three things is through play and the arts. And this is exactly what the Growing Together Project is about.

Mae La refugee camp. Portrait of children. Photo by Handicap International.

We use inclusive play and arts-based methods to build a sense of cohesion and belonging within communities, and to help disadvantaged children learn, grow and develop through play and discovering and building their own craft. This could be dance, drawing, photography, toy making or the art of storytelling. We play with a purpose—for example using play and arts to monitor our project, or to teach children about their right to protection from violence.

Not only does play help children to learn and develop physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually but it is a right, unfortunately, that is often undermined. This gives the work of the Growing Together Project even more importance.

Saw (12) and his brother Kyan (4, cerebral palsy) are inseparable. Saw dropped out of school to take care of his brother. A big responsibility, he has no opportunity to play. One exception: at HI’s rehabilitation center when Kyan does his exercises. Saw feeds they boy and helps him with his exercises at home. He’s afraid to walk around with him, because the camp is not accessible for children with disabilities.  Photo by Handicap International.

Needless to say, we will invite you to play during this IWitness trip! The experience will be what you make of it, and what you put into it, so it will be different for everyone. But you can expect to meet wonderful people, participate in creative activities with adults and children from the communities in which we work, and have an eye-opening experience that will broaden your perspectives about life.

Watch this short video to give an overview of the programme: