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Uganda, 1 April 2015: Child Friendly Spaces support healing of South Sudan refugee children

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

It is 10am, time for a mid-morning break! Over 100 South Sudanese and Ugandan children ran out of the temporary learning tents into the huge dusty play area at the Plan International supported Child Friendly Space (CFS) and Early Childhood Care Development Centre, in Nyumanzi refugee settlement, Adjumani District.

The much younger children engage in a number of recreational activities, singing, jumping and sliding, while others scream on top of their voices. The joy from playing is very evident.

A larger group led by a Caregiver sing ‘Make a circle, make a circle, my good friend…’  They do all this with smiles, giggles as some share hugs with one another. The activities and games help these innocent children cope with the stress and trauma that they have witnessed after the South Sudan crisis.

“The children like the centre and are always here very early in the morning to start their classes,” mentions Jamila, a Caregiver of a lower class. They love the games a lot, and we thank UNICEF for all this,” she continues.

Joseph (not real name), a jolly and energetic, 15 year old adolescent together with his two friends, also arrive at the CFS. The boys are here to play football as they await their next science lesson. The Caregivers at the CFS give the older children like Joseph an opportunity to use the football pitch, for friendly matches during their free time.

UNICEF with support from European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) has set up 36 Child Friendly Spaces in the three Districts of Uganda in which refugees are being settled, Adjumani inclusive, to provide psychosocial support and play activities for more than 10,000 South Sudanese refugee children and those from the host communities.

“Since these children have been exposed to traumatising events, such centres fitted with play materials and various recreational activities, give them a chance to engage in activities that support their healing,” asserts Solomon Mawadri, Probation and Social Welfare Officer, Adjumani District.

“These spaces are also crucial because they provide a wide range of psychosocial support services like counselling for these children whose lives have been disrupted to ensure they lead a normal life despite the circumstances,” he adds.

It is precisely for this reason that Joseph, an Unaccompanied Minor, visits the CFS in Nyumanzi refugee settlement on a daily basis. He not only plays football but also meets and interacts with the other children.

Joseph narrates that the memories of the war still exist. He painfully recalls the night he and his mother fled their home due to the intensified fighting. “My mother woke me up and we immediately started running. Unfortunately, she was killed along the way, he mentions with teary eyes. Very scared and traumatised, he continued running with other people, until they were rescued by the army. The whole group was transported to the border and later to Nyumanzi refugee settlement, which has since become their home.

The beginning was hard, with frequent nightmares, sadness, tears, loneliness but all these effects are slowly reducing, thanks to his two friends, who also double as his strong support system and the care from his foster mother whom he speaks highly of.

His daily trips to the CFS to play football are slowly paying off. The games are helping him and his friends heal psychologically. “When I play football with my friends, I forget most of the bad things that have happened ever since I left home,” he says. Joseph passionately loves Manchester City Football Club, one of the clubs that participate in the English Premier League.

According to Emmanuel Agueng, an animator at another Plan International supported CFS in Ayilo II refugee settlement, the spaces provide children of various age groups with an opportunity to play, dance and discover new things. Through the daily interactions with the children, he sees a difference in their lives. “During the first few months, children were traumatised, unhappy and fighting each other alot. This has now changed! The children are happier, they interact more and are calm,” he narrates.

The support from ECHO has also enabled children under five years that frequent the CFS, access quarterly nutrition screening, deworming and Vitamin A supplementation supported by UNICEF, thereby keeping them alive and thriving.

None of these innocent children are aware of when the war will end but Joseph and many other children in the refugee settlement are certain that they will not return home soon. “I have nothing to go back to. I lost everything that I had especially my mother. All I want is to complete school and become a soldier so I protect my people especially children,” he says.

“Thanks to funding from ECHO, these children have access to unique and much needed Child Friendly Spaces that provide a range of psychosocial support services that help them heal and leave a normal life away from home,” says Dorothy Birungi, UNICEF Emergency Education officer.

 

 
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