Helping refugee children hang on to childhood in the midst of crisis

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Take a moment to imagine yourself fleeing war, chaos and turmoil in your country – the life you knew is gone and you have no other choice but to start fresh in a foreign land with little more than the clothes on your back.

Now, imagine being a child in all this mayhem – the crucial stability you need in order to develop and thrive has collapsed. Worst of all, you can’t fully understand how or why it happened.

Today, there are an estimated 60 million people around the world – nearly half of them children – who have been displaced by conflict, climate change, and other emergencies. These children are denied the joys of a normal childhood, and are forced to grow up far too quickly and far from home.

child carrying child

Siblings at a Burundian refugee camp in Tanzania

Creating safe spaces where kids can just be kids

Plan International is committed to building a better world for children. As part of our response to the global refugee crisis, we are working on the ground in a number of countries providing refugee children and their families with critical support. This support includes not only the basics, such as food, water, shelter and medicine, but also emotional support and child-friendly spaces. These spaces allow kids to just be kids, have fun, and relax in the midst of often chaotic surroundings.

Some of the day-to-day activities in these spaces include:

  • Playing games and sports
  • Drawing, colouring, painting, singing, and drama
  • Self-expression, storytelling and group discussions
  • Sexual education and business/job skills training for older adolescents
  • Self-esteem, resilience, nutrition and child protection training for parents
Two clowns dancing

Clowns Without Borders performances are very popular in Plan International’s child-friendly spaces

According to a study from the University of Columbia in partnership with other aid agencies, refugee children who frequented child-friendly spaces show an increase in positive morality, social competency, and sustained psychosocial well-being – making them less susceptible to PTSD and depression.

Throughout the years, Plan International’s child-friendly spaces have provided a safe haven for thousands of children in crisis. These are some of their stories:


Nyachol at refugee campBorn with limited mobility, Nyachol, 9, is one of the youngest girls to escape the violent internal conflict that broke out in South Sudan in 2013.

The conflict, which has killed an estimated 300,000 people and forced another 270,000 to flee into neighboring Ethiopia, has impacted the lives of thousands of children, many of whom witnessed unimaginable horrors at the hands of rebel soldiers.

Since arriving at the refugee camp with her mother 2 years ago, Nyachol has taken advantage of opportunities she wouldn’t have had back in South Sudan. She is now enrolled in primary school and is currently in Grade 2.

“I am very happy, all the teachers and social workers support me.” She says “After school, I can play at the child-friendly center with my friends. Everything is there. We can stay for a long time singing songs, storytelling and playing games”

HassanHassan stands near soccer net

“When the planes started shooting at our house in Syria, we knew it was time to flee,” says Hassan, 8, who has been living with his family at a refugee camp in Egypt.

For Hassan, the long and dangerous journey to Egypt was overwhelming, and even though it has taken him some time, he is slowly but surely adjusting to his new life – thanks to the help of Plan International’s child-friendly spaces in his community.

“The people here are good to us and our neighbours have helped us a lot,” he says, adding that he loves to go swimming with his mother and play soccer.

Hassan is optimistic that life will continue to improve and is dreaming of returning to a normal life where he has his own bedroom filled with toys.

SEE ALSO: There’s no better time to support Syrian refugees

Help keep their dreams alive

Plan International is on the frontlines in a number of countries, supporting refugee families from regions such as Syria, South Sudan, South America and Central African Republic.

Girls are playing jumping ropes

Girls playing jump rope at a child-friendly space in a Myanmar refugee camp

If you believe, like we do, that all children have the right to celebrate their childhood and dream big dreams, donate to Plan International Canada to support refugees around the world. Your contribution will fund programs that provide vital support such as food, water, shelter, medicine, emotional support and child-friendly spaces.

Help refugees in need!