Refugee kids find toys and joy in scraps

Lisa Martin
Plastic bag-kites are among the favourite toys of Rohingya children at the Cox's Bazar refugee camp

While Christmas toy sales in Australia are expected to top $288 million, at the Rohingya refugee camps near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, discarded trash truly is treasure.

Plastic bags, sticks and string can be assembled into homemade kites to create hours of entertainment, and construction sites double as playgrounds.

Barefoot kite flyers share their runway with trucks laden with bricks and cement bags, barrelling down a hill. With a honk of a horn, children dash out of the way.

Outside a shop selling fried samosas, a toddler holds her mother's henna-ed hand in one of her own and a prized blown up white rubber glove in the other.

They pass a group of little boys drawing patterns in the mud with burnt matches.

Further along a sludgy, potholed alleyway, four-year-old Dillnewaz, wearing a pink ballerina costume adorned with rosettes, sparkly beads and ruffles, is absent-mindedly twirling. She nips up dirt stairs leading to her family's tent.

Inside, she joins her cousins in a circle playing with plastic bottles, empty containers and a red sheep figurine.

Down the road at another camp, amid a sea of orange tarp rooftops, a group of teenage boys are playing a hybrid game of volleyball mixed with soccer in a dried out rice paddy patch. The ball is cane and the net is made out of strips of plastic and long sticks.

Children make up an estimated three in five of the 647,000 people who have fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh since a military crackdown in late August.

Many are traumatised by the massacres in their villages, loved ones lost and homes burned down - not to mention the treacherous jungle journeys and river crossings to escape.

Bearing witness to youngsters, who have suffered so much, deriving such immense joy from simple pleasures is humbling.

* Save the Children is setting up child friendly spaces at the camps where kids can draw and play ball games. Donate to their crisis appeal at www.savethechildren.org.au/rohingya or by calling 1800 76 00 11.

* AAP reporter Lisa Martin and photographer Tracey Nearmy travelled to Bangladesh with assistance from Save the Children.