By Diana Coulter, IFRC 

The cheers of children rise from a tiny mango grove where a badminton match is underway between two trees.

Along with other “pop-up” play activities offered by members of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and IFRC partners, the games are giving children psychosocial support in this patchwork landscape of bamboo shelters where more than 600,000 people have recently arrived from Myanmar, seeking safety from violence.

Stacked on steep hillsides, the sprawling camps can become almost impenetrable in wet weather, but this hasn’t deterred a team of four from ploughing ankle-deep through mud with armloads of sport and play equipment. BDRCS volunteer Julekha “Juli” Akter, 18, was so determined not to disappoint the children that she removed her sandals and walked barefoot to reach the mango grove. “I come here to give happiness and to help people, especially children. This really makes me feel so good,” Akter says.

In one corner of the grove, Juli soon drew a crowd of tiny admirers as she applied intricate designs on their out-stretched hands. Nearby, children swung badminton rackets at a neon shuttlecock. Another group passed a brand-new football around a wide circle of about 30 kids, while BDRCS translator Mohammad Alam explained the game in their mother tongue.

May Maloney, an IFRC Protection, Gender, and Inclusion Advisor, said four large duffel bags of play equipment and boom boxes were donated by members of the Irish Junior Cricket team, who recently competed in Cox’s Bazar, and wanted to help children caught in crisis nearby.

“Children need to play, especially now that they have so many stressful new responsibilities. Most of the time they are helping support their families or looking after the younger children,” says Maloney.

“Play is one way they cope. It helps them process what’s happened and communicate with each other. These activities can be really crucial to their development.”