Learning New Games
Bangladeshi adolescent boys learn traditional Rohingya game from refugee friends
It is a bright, sunny day at the social hub. Boys from the host community take advantage of the clear blue sky to hit a volleyball back and forth over a net located in front yard of the hub.
Soon, the rest of their class – all dressed in freshly-laundered white shirts – pile out of their computer session and join the game.
Volleyball is a somewhat less popular sport in this part of Bangladesh as it is in other parts of the country.
As the boys toss the volleyball – about the size of a melon – it is those who are taller who unsurprisingly dominate the game. One youth clearly within his element is Sherif, 17, who joined the hub 20 days ago.
"I feel really good about this place,” he said. “I can play, I can poke around on the computers…” he trails off laughing.
"...And I can read books here. Also, I like taking part in the life-skills sessions – we play a lot of fun games together here."
He goes on to talk about all the other games that are accessible in the hub, including carrom, volleyball, and badminton.
"There is even a chessboard here, and I want to play but there is no one to play against.
“I could teach them, but no one wants to learn!" he laments. "Chess is my favourite game."
When asked about the game he is playing now, Sherif says: "We don't know what the proper name for it is but, in the village, they call it Sellom. It's a Rohingya game. We picked it up by watching them play. The ball is hollow but hard. It hurts the feet!
"But if you see how the Rohingyas play it, you will be astounded."
"We don't know the rules though," interjects sixteen-year-old Muhammad, one of Sherif's friends who played with him earlier, "or how they play it so well. But it’s obvious they are quite serious about it.
"We like playing the game but do not know the rules. We just sort of fudge through it." Both the boys start laughing.
Muhammad says that it may take a little time to break down the barriers between the refugees and the host community.
Sherif points out that there is no reason why that cannot happen because a lot of Rohingya boys come to the hub and play Sellom and there are opportunities for the two groups to mingle.
“We talk to them very freely, he said, “but we have never asked them to show us how to play the game. Next time, we should ask them to teach us," he says.
"We understand their language and they understand ours, as there are many similarities.
"We want to be their friends for they are our neighbours. We treat them with care here at the hub because they are our guests."
Sherif names one Rohingya boy called Omar who is especially good at mixing.
“Whatever game I play, he plays the same game with me. And if he can't play, I show him how.
“Perhaps, I will even show him how to play chess,” he grins.
Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
This UNICEF programme supported by the European Union Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) aims to enhance peaceful co-existence among adolescents and youth, to strengthen social cohesion and bridge gaps between Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities. You can download a digital brochure and poster of the project here.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of UNICEF and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.