Locally made fun in a Ugandan refugee settlement

Cardboard, boxes, cans and cloth get a second life as playthings for refugee children in Uganda.

by Michele Sibiloni and Adrian Brune
© UNICEF/UN0220170/Sibiloni
UNICEF/UN0220170/Sibiloni

30 January 2019

One of the most instinctive activities for a child is play. Whether they have ABC blocks or recycled boxes, children will find some way to make merry.

And play isn’t all pastime as researchers have found. Pervasive negative experiences can render children more vulnerable to developmental problems. Play helps form the foundation of positive encounters that keep a young brain on track, as it has for some of the 35,000 3-to-6-year-olds in the world’s second largest refugee settlement: Bidibidi, northern Uganda.

At Bidibidi, the ideas for play are plentiful, but neither materials, nor money are readily available. With a little ingenuity, however, parents, caregivers, and even children themselves, are handmaking play materials that replicate mass-produced ones – or even inventing new ones. These photos present just a few of the handmade toys being produced with support from UNICEF and the Lego Foundation.

bouncing balls and handmade balls
UNICEF/UN0220149/Sibiloni

Sponge balls made by parents and children next to a set of UNICEF’s bouncy balls. Balls encourage movement, muscle strengthening and dexterity among children.

homemade dolls and puppets from cloth
UNICEF/UN0220197/Sibiloni

Hand-knit puppets can provide children with an outlet for feelings of helplessness and present a way for them to figure out solutions to problems.

ABCD cards and other memory cards
UNICEF/UN0220201/Sibiloni

A homemade memory game trains a child’s brain to observe and concentrate, as well as recognize similarities and differences. Children also learn about the objects on the cards.

homemade memory matching game
UNICEF/UN0220147/Sibiloni

Locally produced memory cards improve short term memory for children and encourage them to ask questions about the world around them.

real dominoes aligned with homemade dominoes
UNICEF/UN0220151/Sibiloni

Homemade dominoes teach measuring, counting and pattern recognition. They also require children to learn the rules of a game and engage in strategic thinking.

handmade number dials in various colors
UNICEF/UN0220193/Sibiloni

Counting circles made by caregivers help children recognize the meaning of numbers and how addition and subtraction change numbers.

homemade shape sorters
UNICEF/UN0220198/Sibiloni

Locally made shape sorters train or reinforce infants’ hand-eye coordination, control in handling objects and understanding of spatial orientation.

UNICEF picture book, hand-drawn picture book
UNICEF/UN0220148/Sibiloni

A cardboard picture book from UNICEF and one made by Sudanese refugees. Books such as these spark the curiosity of infants and encourage them to engage with adults.

manufactured blocks and homemade building blocks
UNICEF/UN0220154/Sibiloni

Handmade building blocks teach children engineering, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness, in addition to the consequences of building too high!

Homemade balls from child centres in Uganda
UNICEF/UN0220196/Sibiloni

Sponge balls made by South Sudanese from patterns donated by UNICEF. Balls can be used for a number of games: hide and seek, catch, or simply to bounce.

Photos taken at two Early Childhood Development centres in the Bidibidi refugee settlement. As of mid-2018, 60 kits with 15 games each from UNICEF’s standardized play kit had been created for each of four Early Childhood Development Bidibidi centres, reaching nearly 2,500 children.