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Foreigners give children fun day
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Canadian teacher Oliver Baudouy plays drums for children at a temporary shelter for quake victims in Shifang, Sichuan province, yesterday.

Oliver Baudouy knelt on the dusty ground amid the rubble of Bayi Primary School and played the drums.

The simple but strangely attractive rhythm started to draw children from the village. They became increasingly mesmerized by the music but kept their distance from the man.

Baudouy's fellow foreigners started dancing and invited their young audience to join them. The visitors' exaggerated movements and facial expressions made the children laugh.

That was how 40 expatriates yesterday celebrated Children's Day with hundreds of youngsters in the rural areas of Shifang, about two hours' drive away from Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan.

The foreigners were part of relief efforts for the May 12 quake that devastated the province.

The expats, aged between 18 and 60, come from 30 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Ireland and Germany.

Most of them work in Chengdu. "We wanted to spend the day with children in the mountains rather than in a city to deliver the message that they are not forgotten," Peter Goff, who organized the day's activities, said.

The team visited three different places in Luoshui county, a region severely hit by the quake. The treks to the areas were harsh, with county roads virtually destroyed by the quake, but the visitors were not deterred.

"A nice smile on a child's face was all the reward we needed. It warmed our hearts," said Baudouy, a Canadian teacher of the English and French languages.

It was the first time for He Jia to see so many foreigners in person. The 11-year-old girl had previously only seen such foreigners on TV .

"I think they are very funny, especially when they are dancing," she said, as her friends and classmates played with the men.

The girl could not wait to show people what was inside her pockets. They were stuffed with candy.

"The foreigners gave them to me for Children's Day," the pupil said, beaming.

"The students have never been so playful in the aftermath of the quake," said villager Yang Xiaohong, who later joined the dance with the children.

Yang said the children stayed at home or in makeshift sheds after the primary school collapsed. Watching TV was the only leisure activity they had.

More than 1,700 gifts were distributed to the children, including balls, toy cars, dolls and sports equipment. The Eton House International School in Chengdu donated most of the gifts.

"We tried to choose gifts that more than one person could play with, which means more people can have fun," said the school's principal, Sarah Moore.

Frenchman Max De Villers agreed, saying that children needed activities to keep them busy, as they have a lot of energy that needs to be "let off". Staying in a crowded tent was not good for them.

"Playing is one important step for them to return to normal life," he added.

Various activities, such as painting, drum lessons and ball games, took place on the site after more children and their parents joined the visitors.

The children were also eager to take photos with the foreigners.

Gradually, the ruins became a happy playground for the young quake victims yesterday.

"Happiness is very important. Even though you have experienced difficult times, life must go on, and you must enjoy your life, " said Baudouy.

(China Daily June 2, 2008)

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