EARLY YEARS

Diversity playgroup allows local toddlers to mix with refugee children

A fun-filled UN for toddlers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 6:54pm

Toddlers giggle and scream on colourful mats as balls in every colour of the rainbow swirl around them. It's a scene you would expect at any playgroup, but what makes this different is that the children themselves are adding to that colourful mix.

At the Cultural Diversity Playgroup, run by Hong Kong refugee charity Vision First, toddlers of expats and locals get to play with the children of the refugees the charity is helping. It's like a United Nations for the under-threes - and fun is always high on the agenda.

"I took my son to playgroups, but noticed a real lack of colour in the sessions so decided to set up the Cultural Diversity Playgroup," says Vision First co-founder Danielle Stutterd, who helps run the sessions, which her two-year-old son, Oliver, also attends.

I saw an opportunity for refugee parents to mingle with the local community - the sessions provide a bridge between the Hong Kong community and the refugee community
Danielle Stutterd

"I saw an opportunity for refugee parents to mingle with the local community - the sessions provide a bridge between the Hong Kong community and the refugee community," Stutterd says.

Each group on average has attendees from 14 nations, such as Rwanda, Britain, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Uganda, America, the Congo, Australia and, of course, Hong Kong.

Held in Kennedy Town every Thursday from 11am to 12.15pm, the group's target age is six months to three years old (accompanied by one parent).

A typical session starts with a welcome song where the child's name is integrated into the lyrics. It's one of the many personal touches that make the sessions a warm experience. Each session also has a word of the day - at this session it was balloon - that is spoken in the variety of languages.

"We make sure there is loads of free play, which relaxes the children. Sometimes we have guest appearances, we've had a lady from Rwanda sing lullabies, a drummer from Togo and a Congolese guitarist," says Stutterd.

German Christian Dickgreber is one of the growing number of dads who attend, regularly taking his 22-month-old daughter, Cay.

"Cay is adopted, she's Indonesian, and my wife and I really wanted her to be exposed to different cultures. She was going to a commercial playgroup but the schedule was very rigid … that's not the case here.

"One day, like today, there will be airballs, another day touch-and-feel sessions with rice and noodles, and another day storytelling and singing," Dickgreber says.

All proceeds go to Vision First to help the charity assist refugees in the city.

Dickgreber says: "It's great that our child is getting exposure to all these different cultures but, on top of that, it's equally satisfying knowing the money we give is going to a good cause."

For British mum Amanda Lote, the appeal of the playgroup is two-fold. She sees it benefiting herself and her nine-month-old son. "I thought it would be great for my son Cassius - and myself - to have exposure to different kids and mums and dads in different circumstances, and that it would be culturally enriching for him, which it was," says the Hong Kong resident.

Lote highly recommends the playgroup to other parents.

"In many ways, it's similar to other playgroups but, thankfully, not just white middle-class finance professionals and their spouses and offspring. We will definitely be back," she says.

Vision First Cultural Diversity Playgroup, Thur, 11am-12.15pm, 1/F Harbour View Garden, 2 Catchick St, Kennedy Town, tel: 2840 0430