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Phuket Gazette

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 6 months ago

Make ’em laugh

 

From the Phuket Gazette.

 

Parachute football? Take one real parachute the brighter the better and gather 100 or so children to hold the edge of the ’chute...It’s a sweeping generalization perhaps, but it’s fair to say that few expatriates currently in Phuket suffered from exposure to war or natural disasters during their childhoods.

 

But that did not stop some from caring about children in other, less fortunate countries. One of these is Arabella Churchill, who founded Children’s World, based in Glastonbury, England, in 1981. Its remit – to provide fun, educational, creative and social benefits for local children, particularly those with special needs or who are socially disadvantaged – is as straightforward now as it was then.

 

Some 18 years later, Arabella, who is the granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II, created Children’s World International (CWI), and set about taking creative and educational performances to children in Kosovo, who had suffered during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

 

Arabella is now in Thailand with CWI and her mission – to bring smiles to children’s faces – is as simple as ever. She spoke to the Gazette’s Andy Johnstone.

 

The school playground in Phuket City is awash with colors; children are spinning plates, juggling beanbags, performing with long ribbons of vivid hues. And not one of them has ever done any of this before.

 

A beaming Phanthip Deja-rern, 10, says, “I will put on a show for my family when I go back home today; I’m very excited that these people came all the way to Thailand to teach us things and to show us how to relax.”

 

The kids also play parachute football. For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is more straightforward than one might think.

 

Take one real parachute – the brighter the better – and gather 100 or so children to hold the edge of the ’chute. Roughly divide the children along the diameter of the ’chute into two teams, and throw a football into the center.

 

Teamwork – and a little practice – will have the teams scoring goals by forcing the ball to roll past the opposing sides’ players.

 

SLAPSTICK

 

It is very noisy. It is very lively. It looks like a lot of fun. The hundred-or so pupils taking part are being watched by hundreds more craning their necks out of the school’s windows.

 

The show that follows is pure slapstick with juggling and routines that look simple, but are not. The schoolchildren – with an hour’s or so practice – are an integral part of the performance.

 

 

 

 

Schoolboy Aom takes to juggling like an expert.Plate spinning, although relatively easy to explain as merely a demonstration of gyroscopic inertia, is a test of the nerve and skills of the 10 children who must pass a revolving platter from one stick to another down the line. Hats off to them; they do it.

 

Hats on, however, for one of juggling routines from Haggis. Aided and abetted – or perhaps hindered – by Jake, his sidekick, and performing to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s I Get a Kick Out Of You, Haggis has the children alternately silently transfixed and roaring with delight.

 

It’s visual, physical humor.

 

Jo, in thick glasses, does a turn with a strangely mobile suitcase that sprouts legs and wanders off when her back is turned. The audience is spellbound.

 

This is just one of dozens of shows put on recently by Child-ren’s World International (CWI), an offshoot of Children’s World (CW), which is headed by Ara-bella Churchill.

 

CW focuses on the area around Arabella’s home in Glas-tonbury, concentrating on integration and inclusion work, to enable normal children to interact fully and happily with those who have special needs, while, of course, having fun at the same time.

 

 

Plate spinning was also popular.This, it is believed, will help the normal children to grow up with less fear of and less prejudice against – what is generally termed “disability”.

 

CWI is different. It exists to make children – and in turn, their parents – smile again.

 

Arabella explains, “CWI all started when we saw the awful images from Kosovo in 1999, of people fleeing over the mountains to Albania. We decided that once the conflict was over, then Children’s World would go over there. But because our geographical remit restricts us to southwest England, we formed a sister organization, CWI.”

 

The Kosovo-Albania tour in October 1999 saw some 5,000 children taking part in activities as diverse as circus skills, face-painting and badge-making workshops.

 

She points out that CWI is not what is termed a “first response” organization. “We don’t go in to bring immediate, life-saving aid to people. We’d simply get in the way of the relief teams.

 

“Although fun and creative play may sound frivolous,” she says, “we believe that they are powerful tools in recreating confidence and inspiring hope for the future, and we hope that our work provides benefits to the children.”

 

The next sortie for CWI was to Northern Ireland in 2004, working with children with special and social needs from both the Catholic and Protestant communities that had been split by years of sectarian violence.

 

“We don’t have a lot of money, so CWI can only do things when Children’s World has had a successful year,” Arabella explains.

 

When the tsunami came, she says, “We thought, ‘Well, we’ve got to go.’ Simple as that.”

 

“It’s very difficult to set up a tour overseas when you don’t know where precisely to go, who you need to talk with to arrange things, or even the cost of living. It makes it hard to budget,” she says.

 

L-R: Haggis Mcleod, Jake, Arabella Churchill, Jo, Jessica Churchill Mcleod. Front row: Rooben.

 

She was eventually put in contact with Mohan Samara-sinhe, a Sri Lankan who lives in London, who suggested that CWI’s queries could best be answered by visiting his country.

 

“So Devilstick Peat – CWI’s main performer/workshop leader – and I went out to Sri Lanka for a mini-tour and reconnaissance and contact-making tour in March 2005.

 

MORALE

 

“It was a completely disorganized tour,” she laughs. “We’d roll up to a camp in a tuk-tuk and say, ‘Hello, can we do a show now?’ Sometimes it was Qur’an reading time or children’s homework time, but we did shows at around half the places we went to.”

 

Arabella describes the conditions in many of the camps they visited, barely three months after the tsunami, as “pretty crappy, with people in limbo”.

 

“They weren’t too bothered about it then,” continues Arabella, “because they were expecting to be helped fairly soon. But when we were there in late December, very few of them had been permanently housed. Morale is, in some ways, worse now than it was (in March), because people now know what it will take to be housed.

 

“Why do we do it?,” asks Arabella. “Workshops, fun and games is not ‘the big stuff’ like building houses or boats, or rebuilding livelihoods, but it really can help in raising morale in the camps and elsewhere, which is most desperately needed.”

CWI returned to Sri Lanka in May and then again in the last two months of the year.

 

Linda Cruse, Field Director for the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders’ Forum, an agency that has set up and run a number of projects and initiatives in Phuket and Phang Nga, also saw the therapeutic benefit of entertaining children, and invited a magician to perform for them. This led to Linda contacting CWI, which added Phuket, Phang Nga and Phi Phi Island to its itinerary.

 

Arriving in mid-December, Arabella and CWI set about planning with Somchai – Linda’s right-hand man in Phuket – just where they should go. Sea Gypsy villages, Childwatch Phuket, the Asia Child Foundation and Wat Kamala School are just a few of the places that have already enjoyed the antics of CWI.

 

On the mainland, children from Baan Nam Khem, Bang Niang, Laem Ken and Bang Sak, Tap Tawan and the Burmese refugee camps near the Burmese border will also be visited.

 

According to Haggis Mc Leod, juggler extraordinaire and Arabella’s husband, the workshops and games before the show are “well-organized chaos”.

 

CWI relies on sponsors, both individual and corporate, to allow it to bring joy into children’s lives.

 

“Parents have thanked us for making their children smile,” says Arabella. “Some have even said that they didn’t believe their children would smile again, and of course, cheering up the children cheers up the parents.

 

“Perhaps, in the long term, CWI’s work doesn’t mean anything, but I suppose it’s therapeutic with a small ‘t’.”

Therapeutic, and priceless.

 

For more information about CWI, visit the website www.childrensworldcharity.org

By Andy Johnstone

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