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Feature: Refugee children in Rwanda find safe spaces to play

UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Wexler
© UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Wexler
Yvette Gateyeneza enjoying recreational activities in Nkamira Transit Centre.

By Raquel Wexler and Cyriaque Ngoboka

RUBAVU, Rwanda, February 2013 - Yvette Gateyeneza, 14, spends most of her day helping her mother and older sister prepare food, fetch water and wash the few clothes they were able to carry with them before settling in Nkamira Transit Centre, a way-station for thousands of refugees fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

“We don’t attend school. We wake up every morning, go to get clean, and then go to pray. After that, I help my mother with lunch. We don’t have much else to do.”

Since fighting broke out in the DRC, thousands have crossed over into Rwanda to seek refuge at Nkamira Transit Centre. The Transit Centre, managed by Rwanda's Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs and UNHCR, is punctuated by makeshift tents and structures which shelter more than 5,000 people who currently reside there, some 90 per cent of whom are women and children.

With family structures broken and schooling interrupted, there is an urgent need to provide for the care and protection of children, and restore a sense of normalcy.

At the Transit Centre UNICEF has partnered with Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle (VJN) and Save the Children to provide organised recreational activities for children and youth. Child friendly activities provide children with learning, play and entertainment activities. Such “child-friendly spaces” are designed to serve as a safe and protected space for children in times of emergency.

“I was very happy to see the animators come to the transit centre,” says Yvette.  Before they came, we had nothing to do.”

UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Hirtle
© UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Hirtle
One of the animators with a megaphone. Child friendly activities provide children with learning, play and entertainment activities.

“Before we came to the camp, the youth were unoccupied,” said Ladislas Ntesirayo, an animator for Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle. “There was a need to encourage them. With the youth we now do different activities. We play football, we play volleyball, we have acrobatics, theatre, songs, modern dance, traditional dance and so on. And we try to provide counselling for those who faced problems in the Congo.”

UNICEF has supported child friendly recreational and psycho-social activities in Nkamira Transit Centre since 2012. Using drama, sports and songs, messages on gender-based violence and HIV prevention have been disseminated to 70 per cent of refugees in a short period of time. A concert organized by Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle helped to spread messages on good hygiene, child protection and HIV prevention to 3 of every 4 people residing at the Transit Centre. Through partnership with Save the Children, UNICEF is supporting Early Childhood Development activities for children aged 0-6, a child protection desk to strengthen referral mechanisms for children at risk, and temporary care for unaccompanied and separated children in Nkamira.

“Of the population here in Nkamira, 60 per cent are children. We have a children’s influx,” said Noala Skinner, UNICEF Rwanda Representative.  “One of our top priorities is setting up child-friendly spaces for these children. Safe spaces where they can be children. Where they can play. Where they can play football, where they can dance, where they can sing. Where they can do all sorts of activities, and have fun.”

The child-friendly activities at the Transit Centre reach up to 2,800 children every day. UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure that all the children of Nkamira have safe and protected places to play, and have fun.

“I am happy that all children will have the chance to play,” said Yvette.



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