French children learn about refugees by sending them their toys

News Stories, 29 January 2010

© UNHCR/H. Boulmaoui
French children get a lesson at the Quai Branly Museum about refugee youngsters in Tanzania.

PARIS, France, January 29 (UNHCR) As their previous owners cheerfully waved goodbye, more than 1,000 teddy bears, dolls, cars, planes and other toys on Friday began a journey that will take them from the Left Bank of the River Seine in Paris to the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania.

The toys departed early morning from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport on an Emirates commercial flight bound for Dubai. From there they will fly to Dar-Es-Salaam for their onward journey to the camp in north-west Tanzania, where they will be handed over to their delighted new owners refugee children.

The shipment of 27 large boxes of toys is part of a joint initiative by the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, the UN refugee agency and the charity, Aviation Sans Frontières (ASF). Beneficiaries of this annual project in the previous three years included refugee children in Chad, Liberia and Kenya.

"This one is my toy," a little blonde girl cried proudly, pointing to a doll as the last box was being sealed in Paris. She and other children, aged between six and seven, then learned about the journey that their toys would be taking and about the lives of the children who would soon be receiving them. When handlers took away the cardboard boxes, the children waved goodbye to their toys.

"It was a great pleasure to be part of this operation again," said Mathilde Le Gal of the Quai Branly Museum. "Children and adults are always delighted to take part in this activity that they can all enjoy, have fun with and learn from."

The Quai Branly Museum showcases the art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. It regularly organizes activities for children, hoping to stimulate their interest in different arts and cultures.

"This operation is representative of the chain of solidarity binding ASF, UNHCR and the Quai Branly Museum, working jointly in favour of children who have been in a refugee camp for many years and who don't have the same opportunities as French children," said the president of Aviation Sans Frontières, Jean Claude Gérin.

Over the past year, children have been taking part in weekly workshops called, "The Other Toy." They each bring in one of their own toys in good condition and then make another one from recyclable materials after seeking inspiration from the museum exhibits and toys made by African children.

Since last October, more than 700 children and about 20 schools all over France have taken part in the project and donated more than 1,000 toys, which will be distributed to community centres and schools in Nyarugusu.

By William Spindler and Hannane Boulmaoui in Paris, France

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UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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From Paris With Love, Toys for Syrian Children

Every year, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris organizes a collection of toys from schoolchildren in Paris and, with a little help from UNHCR and other key partners, sends them to refugee children who have lost so much.

The beneficiaries this year were scores of Syrian children living in two camps in Turkey, one of the major host countries for the more than 1.4 million Syrians who have fled their country with or without their families. Most of these traumatized young people have lost their own belongings in the rubble of Syria.

Last week, staff from the museum, UNHCR and the Fédération des Associations d'Anciens du Scoutisme gathered up the toys and packed them into 60 boxes. They were then flown to Turkey by Aviation Sans Frontières (Aviation without Borders) and taken to the kindergarten and nursery schools in Nizip-1 and Nizip-2 camps near the city of Gaziantep.

A gift from more fortunate children in the French capital, the toys brought a ray of sunshine into the lives of some young Syrian refugees and reminded them that their peers in the outside world do care.

These images of the toy distribution were taken by photographer Aytac Akad and UNHCR's Selin Unal.

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