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Refugee children must still enjoy their childhood

Halima, a refugee and mother from South Sudan, is teaching and caring for children at a Plan International centre in a refugee camp in Uganda. She talks about the joy the work brings her, and her hopes for the children's future.

Halima Mustafa escaped war in South Sudan with her three children and settled in a refugee camp in Uganda in 2014. She soon signed up as a volunteer caregiver for Plan International’s early childhood care and development programme in the camp, and word about her contribution has spread across borders, reaching as far as her home nation.

In her late twenties, Halima is a single mother; she last saw her husband in South Sudan.

“My love for children comes from the struggle the children are going through. I want to ensure that the children, some of whom do not have both parents, can still enjoy early childhood education like other children in normal environments,” says Halima

Centre of education

Arriving at the childcare centre at 7am, Halima works with the children for 4 hours, escorting them back home at the end of the morning session. She uses local materials like clay, bottle tops, empty tins and toys made out of rags to engage the children in play, writing, singing, literacy and numeracy.

“The children did not know anything when they came here from South Sudan, but now they can count, dance, comb their hair and clean themselves,” says Halima. She has gained the trust and love of the children to such an extent that many of them will look for her at the weekend when the centre is closed.

“Halima takes care of our children very well,” says one mother. “When they come home, they tell us stories, and sing for us songs they have learnt at school."

In the last year, Halima’s centre has seen an increase in the number of children from 157 to 230, partly because so many children want to attend.

“Halima is an outstanding volunteer. She is committed and does all it takes to ensure children are comfortable and receive the best care and love while at school,” says Dennis Okullu, Plan International’s education specialist in emergencies.

Working with parents

Our childcare centres also host parent sessions where mothers can learn about issues related to their children’s well-being. Halima has helped to educate many of the 492 mothers who’ve attended meetings on hygiene, early childhood parenting skills and child protection in the camp.

Men have also been inspired to join the parenting sessions. This development has not only helped parents and guardians to understand their responsibility, but has significantly improved both the safety of children and the value attached to children’s education.