Our local community are currently hosting a group of children from Belarus. The Russian-speaking 7-12 year olds come from an area that continues to be contaminated by the fallout from Chernobyl in 1986. They live each day with the social and environmental consequences of that disaster, including compromised health. The host families provide good food, clean water, plenty of rest and fun activities for a month, with the hope that the children return home stronger and healthier than when they arrived.
Last weekend was the first group get together at the home of one of the hosts. Outdoors, football and frisbee were the choices of the boys in the group, whilst the girls stayed indoors crafting bracelets and colouring. The adults looked on, sipping cups of tea and exchanging experiences of hosting to date. Late in the afternoon, one of the hosts announced that we were all to play the ‘ring on a string’ game. We gathered in the middle of the room- 8 adults including two Belarusian interpreters, English and Belarusian children, standing in a big circle, gripping onto a piece of string around which we surreptitiously passed a silver ring. One person placed themselves in the middle of the circle, with the aim of trying to spot which person had the ring in their hand. We laughed, we teased. We jostled. We had fun.
Play researchers have discovered that games help to build trust between groups. Play has the power to help us feel safer together and to heal rifts. Some people we know have frowned on the idea of us hosting a child from abroad. They have suggested that we would be better off directing our energies towards helping needy children in our own country. They may have a point, but my view is that the more we can do to encourage activities that engender trust and reduce fear between members of different cultures, the better we will all be for it in the long-term.
Playing together gives us a universal language that emphasises only the similarities between us rather than the differences.