With schools closed, mobile classrooms open for kids at Uganda's Bidi Bidi camp
Isabel Nakirya
Refugee students take courses at Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda. /CGTN

Refugee students take courses at Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda. /CGTN

In Uganda's Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, home compounds have been turned into art classrooms and group play areas for hundreds of refugee children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Art classes and group play are parts of the curriculum offered to refugee children and are also considered therapy to help deal with their traumatic past brought about by the war back home. This is in addition to trying to keep up with schoolwork.

The curriculum offered in these mobile classrooms are rope, ball and doll making out of locally made materials like banana fiber. The hand-made things then turn into their toys. Children also learn how to draw.

Since the pandemic hit in March, refugee children have not been able to go to school or even to access play areas where the therapy takes place. Schools in Uganda have partly resumed but only with classes for students in their final year.

Thousands of refugee children are stuck at home with little or no learning taking place, and few outlets for their energy. When school closed in March, around 15 million students across the country were affected. But with the phased reopening, only 1.2 million final year students, including refugee children across the country, are back in school. 

Celina Bayo, a South Sudanese refugee and a mother of five, is full of relief that her children are now occupied. Her compound is one of the areas being used for children to play.

A refugee child draws at Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda. /CGTN

A refugee child draws at Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda. /CGTN

She said she was finding it hard to control her children's movements before the play centers were moved to the community. "While at home the children had become so stubborn, moving up and down, they didn't even listen to me, their mother."

Celina's family arrived in Uganda in 2016 and has lived at Bidi Bidi since then. While she's happy with the community play areas, she wishes for things to return to normal so that children can return to school.

The refugee agency World Vision is one of those supporting refugee children in Uganda with this kind of play-learning approach. Childcare givers say staying idle at home could cause children to stray and pick up bad habits. 

Ceaser Odongo, who works as an evaluation officer at World Vision, said this type of therapy instills discipline in children and heals their trauma.

"We extend counseling services to these children. Remember they go through a lot of challenges. This support also goes to parents because as we train children to build these local materials, we are saying we are not there throughout, we also train parents to be able to support the children."

The Ugandan government provided learning material for refugee children to continue with home-learning during the pandemic, but there were not enough materials for each student.

It's still uncertain when school will fully reopen in Uganda, but refugee children at Bidi Bidi can still enjoy the door-to-door play centers for a while.

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