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