Many displaced children end up living in refugee camps or temporary settlements for months or even years, making up a substantial part of their childhood. For some life on the move is all that they know and will make up their earliest memories.
The early years of a child’s life are very important for their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Early experiences determine the development of the mind and body, establish lifelong patterns for behavior, character, health, and learning ability, and form the basis for future well-being and the way of life. However, refugee children are exposed to multiple stresses on a daily basis, and in many camps, there is little in the way of stimulation for young children.
While visiting the camps the conditions were unimaginably unpleasant. Without proper waste disposal or sanitation, a hazardous layer of litter and waste had built up, making it feel more like a landfill site than a refugee camp.
“Dr. Khalid Mufti who is a psychologist, while addressing the issue shared that play builds young brains but the multiple stresses and anxieties associated with living in a refugee camp can be evident as depression, withdrawal, or aggression, and angry outbursts in response to threats or perceived threats are common. Children were living in survival mode.”
I saw children punched, kicked in the face, stamped on. The fighting created a cycle the bullied often became the bullies, playing out in front of my eyes. The reason was that there was no designated area for children to play and limited access to safe space where they could burn off their energy The ground outside was covered in a layer of rubble to prevent it from becoming waterlogged and Sharp rocks and children don’t mix well. They couldn’t run, skip, or jump without falling and cutting their knees, and, as we soon found out, the rocks made perfect ammunition to hurl in a fight.
And the question in my mind was how we can support refugee children in becoming fully connected, active members of society and give them an equal chance at leading rich, happy, and fulfilling lives?
On the other side, there are some efforts that can lead to the solution, and I talked to Ms. Fakhira an educationist working with the camps shared that “over the following years during my visit to Haripur Refugees camp the things I saw affected me deeply.
I felt impelled to do something. I felt I had an opportunity to do something. I wanted to use my skills to support them in some small way, and, with a background in teaching, I set off to Haripur with a friend to help create a safe space for children living in the camp with radio class.
There was no budget for the running of the children’s center. With the help of volunteers in the community, we established a safe space to play, and soon the first little faces began peeping through the canvas doors. Before long the tent was full of small people, busy with playing games, coloring, and singing; their smiles and laughter belying the reality of their situation.
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