South Sudan – Healing through Play

LWF Engages Refugee Community in Child-Friendly Spaces in South Sudan

Refugee children play together in a child friendly space created by LWF in a refugee camp in Maban, South Sudan. © LWF/Melany Markham

Refugee children play together in a child friendly space created by LWF in a refugee camp in Maban, South Sudan.                                  © LWF/Melany Markham

(By Melany Markham, Nairobi based LWF regional communications coordinator)

MABAN, South Sudan/GENEVA, 17 January 2013 (LWI) – It is late afternoon at the Yusuf Batil refugee camp. A group of over 100 children are playing various games in the grounds of a school. Girls jump rope and boys play football. As the sun sinks lower one or two adults join in and lead the children in song and action games. The scene is not spontaneous. It is the result of a deliberately designed ‘child-friendly space.’

Child-friendly spaces are created during emergencies to respond to children’s needs. According to guidelines published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), they should be established quickly and can help protect, nurture and educate children in an informal way, as well as serving as an entry point to aid for affected communities.

Simply put, they are places where children can play together safely. After fleeing violence, enduring diseases like malaria and separation from their families, simple games can help restore a child’s happiness and bring them closer to a normal life.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has set up two child-friendly spaces at the Yusuf Batil refugee camp in Maban county in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. Like similar spaces created in other camps where the LWF collaborates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they are located within schools. There are 386 children (186 boys and 200 girls) registered there. After classes have finished for the day, volleyballs, skipping ropes, hula-hoops, badminton sets and other games are distributed and the fun begins.

Children need a broad range of activities to cater for their different needs. While a four-year-old girl might be happy singing songs and dancing, the same activity might not hold the attention of a 12-year-old boy. One of the most popular games at the camp schools is football. Second to that is jump rope and some of the girls obviously practice regularly if their energy and enthusiasm is any indication.

Children from Different Backgrounds

Igga Idraku Pasteur, a child protection officer for the LWF in Yusuf Batil says it is important that children learn to play together. Not only does it help them heal their emotional wounds, but it helps reduce conflict in the long-term as children from different backgrounds learn to get along with one another. For this to happen, Pasteur and his colleagues must have the help of the communities themselves, so LWF engages refugees to supervise the children while they play.

At Yusuf Batil 12 facilitators (five women and seven men) have been appointed. They know what their roles are as well as their responsibilities, the principles of child rights and the concept behind child-friendly spaces. To bolster children’s protection in the refugee camp, the LWF has also established child protection committees and each child-friendly space has its own committee with a balanced representation of men and women.

Emergencies can have a hemorrhaging effect on communities, disrupting routines, services and support for children and reducing people’s ability to care and protect their own, says Pasteur. Involvement in child-friendly spaces helps them protect and support their children again. This is why it is critical that the community’s own networks, people, and resources are used to maintain the spaces. Parents, grandparents, religious leaders, women’s groups and youth groups can all play a role in keeping children safe and helping them heal, he adds.

According to the UNHCR, there are more than 112,000 people from Sudan living at Yusuf Batil and other refugee camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. As the sun sets, the games at the child-friendly spaces finish for the day and children head home. Tired, but happy, for a moment at least, their troubles have melted away.

(By Melany Markham, Nairobi based LWF regional communications coordinator)

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