As nearly one billion people turned their eyes toward London to witness the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, many Lon

doners who could not make it to the actual event opted to watch the fanfare at community screens stationed throughout the city.  One such screen was located in Dagenham Park, a large green in East London’s Dagenham suburb.  Churches in the local area cooperated to organise a festival surrounding  the community screening of the opening ceremony, including cultural dancing, family games, live bands, and children’s entertainment. Hundreds of residents came out to enjoy the festival and participate in the community gathering.

The event was designed by a Christian youth and community work organisation called Fusion, whose goal is to “build relationships with local communities, allowing individuals to find their local and global purpose through experiencing God’s love,”

said Fusion staff member Jessie Braun.  She and her fellow worker Shannon Slight have arrived in London along with 90 other team members to organise community events around the United Kingdom.  “Community is a fundamental aspect of life,” said Slight.  “It is a fundamental need for all people.  We are in need of relationships with others.  When that need is met in a healthy way, it brings life.”

That was the hope of the Dagenham churches and Fusion in organising the event — to bring life to the suburb of Dagenham through encouraging unity and building relationships.  Bob Paul, a longtime resident of the community, agreed that this event was successful in bringing the neighborhood together. He said that a large-scale event like this was rare for Dagenham. “This is the first time I’ve been to something like this,” he said.  “There is definitely more unity here.  I love that this is such a community event.”

The festival at Dagenham and its community focus is an example of the worldwide sentiment of unity that the Olympic Games seems to bring.  Even apart from the festival, residents of Dagenham have seen a difference in their neighbourhood as the Olympics have drawn near. Irene Kinzee has lived in Dagenham all her life, and at 80 years old, she says she has definitely seen more unity in her local area in the past few weeks.  “People seem to be out and about more, and they are friendlier,” she observed. Yet she couldn’t quite pinpoint what about the Olympics has brought this new feeling of togetherness. “You know, I don’t know,” she said with a smile when asked why the Olympics seems to make people friendlier and more unified.

Indeed, a certain sense of mystery surrounds the bonding effect the Olympics has on groups of people.  Daniel Opeifa, resident of Dagenham for 10 years and volunteer at the Dagenham festival marveled at the crowds gathered in the park.  “The Olympics are a magnet.  People who aren’t even interested in sports come together and cheer during the Olympics. It’s not just about sport. It’s about communities.  It’s about nations.  It’s about the world, all together. … It’s really quite a miracle.”

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