Cosplaying into young hearts

I had the honour of becoming a volunteer cosplayer for a day.

I stepped out in my cosplay costume with an anxious heart, not knowing what to expect.

Dressed as Umaru-chan from Japanese manga series Himouto! Umaru-chan, I was about to meet about 50 children in an event held on June 3.

Contrary to popular belief, people do not run excitedly to you, even if you are in a costume. Especially if you're not dressed as a popular cartoon character.

I was greeted with strange looks and curious questions: "Are you Charmander? Or a bear?"

My day as a volunteer cosplayer for Pause for a Cause (PFAC) certainly gave me insights I did not expect.

PFAC, a cosplay volunteer group founded by Jacen Khoo, operates on a simple aim: to bring happiness to children through hospital visits and charity events. Founded in 2013, the platform has approximately 60 volunteers in total, and appears at six to 10 events annually, free-of-charge.

Jacen, who has been running the platform for the past four years, shared: "The name 'Pause for a Cause' means taking a pause from our regular lives to do something for a good cause."


I volunteered at Simba Camp, a three-day event organised by the Duke NUS Medical School
for primary school children with family members afflicted with cancer.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/MARK ONG

Having limited experience with children, I felt extremely awkward and self-conscious at first, even a tad silly. And I've never tried cosplay before this event, which lasted for a few hours.

But I quickly adapted when I saw how the seasoned cosplayers carried themselves with ease. They were professional, and hardly broke out of character.

"Once I cosplayed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and a young girl really thought I was Ariel. She even asked me, 'How's Sebastian the crab?'

"It made me feel like all my hours of effort was worth it," shared Jinko Bells, a 19-year-old student who cosplayed as Elsa from Frozen.


The kids were delighted to see (left to right) Alice, Anna, and Elsa.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/MARK ONG

I, too, had felt the bursts of happiness when the children stopped to smile and wave when they saw me in my costume.

Most adults would probably barely bat an eyelid when they see people dressed in costumes. But for these children, watching their favourite characters come to life is like a moment of pure magic.

And that seemed to be the driving factor for most of the youth cosplayers I spoke to.

24-year-old Kaliea, dressed as Anna from Frozen, said: "Disney was a great part of my childhood. I want to share that childhood with children as well."

Besides interacting with the children, I realised that being a cosplayer isn't just about dressing up and looking good. Staying in character was also important.

I couldn't remove my costume for the entire duration of the event, and neither could the other cosplayers. Breaking out of character would take away the magic of the experience for the children.


PFAC founder Jacen Khoo (right, dressed as Batman) with the volunteer cosplayers for the day.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/MARK ONG 

Cosplayers are often seen as strange individuals with an unconventional hobby.

But I am starting to see these cosplayers from PFAC as a community of people with hearts of gold, dedicated to their passion for cosplay while bringing joy to others.

"People usually ask me, 'Why do you do this at your age? You don't get paid,'" added Jinko Bells.

For Mohd Ariffin, 33, being able to cheer the children he visits motivates him to volunteer with PFAC.

"I once visited a young boy in hospital while I was cosplaying as the Red Power Ranger. He was so happy to take a photo with me, he kissed me on the helmet after the picture. It honestly moved me," said the security investigation officer.


Mohd Ariffin (left) dressed as a Red Power Ranger, playing with a child.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ROSALIND ANG

Similarly, Jacen hopes that other cosplayers could put their costumes to good use while spreading joy to others.

Jacen, dressed as Batman, said: "Initially, it was about cosplayers contributing what they can to a cause. Over time, we realised that we could be a platform for cosplayers to find greater meaning in cosplay – to bring joy to others who can interact with their favourite characters in real life."

"If our costumes can make even just one person happy after a day under the hot sun, I think our volunteers will agree that it was worth it," he added, with a smile.

TEASER AND BANNER PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/MARK ONG