Take off your “pity glasses”!

Don’t worry—it’s not about your actual glasses. We’re talking about imaginary glasses that brings your attention only to pity, sadness and negativity when looking at children with disability, or children who are vulnerable and living in difficult situations. Yes, they live in poor conditions but that doesn’t mean they never smile, have no fun, or are close-minded. Instead they love meeting new friends to have fun with. So here I want you to take off your pity glasses. I bet you’ll see beautiful smiles, warm feelings and, most importantly, who they really are.

Children showing us flower crowns they made at Mae La temporary shelter. Photo by Seng Lu Tain.

After an hour’s drive from Mae Sot, the nearest city, IWitness Japan reached the Mae La temporary shelter. It’s located along the Myanmar-Thai border and has been open for over 30 years. It’s the largest temporary shelter with more than 40,000 refugees, and about half of the people here are under 18. This means that safe places to play are needed for many of them to develop into happy and healthy individuals. Yet these are extremely hard to find. The camp is overcrowded with temporary houses. On a rainy day, streets turn into rivers. That’s why Humanity & Inclusion’s hard work on creating safe places for children to play is so valuable. Growing Together, their project supported by the IKEA Foundation, gives children with and without disabilities the fundamental right to play, and the opportunity to be a child in a safe environment.

Taking a selfie with new friends at Mae La temporary shelter. Photo by Alexander Brühlmann.

“These children are ready to have fun!” This is how I felt when I got inside the playground. The room was filled with children’s uproarious laughter. So many children were welcoming us with shining eyes looking for more joy. As soon as I sat down on the floor, I noticed a boy who was peeking at me from behind a pillar. “Hi, I’m Moe!” I said to him. He then invited me to play with a balloon as a greeting back. What a unique greeting…I loved it! The two of us started tossing the balloon and suddenly a girl joined us. Cool, now we are three of us, more fun! Just like this, we kept inviting more people to play with us. Before I knew it, we were a happy large crowd laughing together. This is the power of play. We were speaking different languages but we communicated and understood each other through playing.

Children dancing to a song! Photo by Moeka Kanamura.

So why should every child have the right to play? Because children love to play. That sounds super simple but that’s exactly how I felt playing with children in the camp. Seeing them having so much fun, showing big smiles, it made me realise that children want to play no matter where they are. Children in this camp love to play as much as Japanese ones do. Yet millions of children around the world don’t have the basic things they need to do this.

It’s true that the living conditions in Mae La are extremely poor, but that’s not all there is to the people living there. They’re all smiles, they have many friends and they are eager to learn new things. Oh, and did I tell you that they love telling jokes? Yes, I was not the funniest one there. These are things we may easily forget when looking at people with challenges through our pity glasses! However, it’s easy to take them off. I believe that when we try to find a way to make a change using a positive perspective, we can grow together.

Let’s have fun and smile! Photo by Moeka Kanamura.
    Moeka Kanamura