by Marysia Zapasnik
Deep in the remote Doro refugee camp in South Sudan, among tens of thousands of tents and makeshift shelters, among smoking fires with boiling sorghum and women carrying firewood and water, among the insecurity of people forced by war to flee their homes, there is the distant sound of laughter. Innocent and carefree - the sound of happy children.
In a clearing swept clean of thorns and refuse, hundreds of children of all ages are playing with balls, skipping ropes and frisbees. Under one shady tree in a corner of the clearing a small group of children is sitting on woven mats and looking eagerly at a recently arrived MAG Community Liaison team. MAG is working closely with Save the Children to protect all the refugee children playing in the camp’s Child Friendly Spaces. The team pulls dolls, posters and bags out of their vehicle and approaches the children with smiling faces and friendly waves. With them is a specially trained local translator - skilled in the art of capturing the attention and interest of young children.
The team begins by introducing themselves and then moves straight into a fun song and dance routine. In their hands they wave colourful African rag dolls and the children are captivated.
The Community Liaison team use song, dance, theatre, games and role play to educate children providing them with safety knowledge in a fun and entertaining way. The children, who as young as three walk around unaccompanied, need to know what is dangerous and what is safe, what not to touch and the areas from which to stay away. It is a matter of life and death.
“Of course,” explains Community Liaison Officer William Ton Thor. “When we are working with the youngest children - only three or four years old - our message must be extremely simple. ‘Do not touch strange objects and if you see something tell your Mama, Baba o Ustas’ - that means mum, dad or teacher. With the slightly older children, we ask them to look after their younger brothers and sisters.”
The children learn how to recognise international warning signs and learn that red means danger and white means safe. William holds up a red picket and the children shout: ‘Mushika!’ (Danger!) and run away. Then he holds up a white picket and they all shout: ‘Borga!’ (Safe!) and run towards him. Next it’s time for the theatre show.
The team uses dolls to enact children finding a dangerous item. One of the dolls plays with the item and when it explodes, the doll loses a leg. The children are then asked what the doll did wrong.
“She touched the thing,” explains seven-year-old Adam. “She must not touch any strange thing, like a metal fish, or she will be hurt.” Older children discuss the effects of mine and unexploded ordnance accidents and the team encourages them to think of ways they can best help someone in their community who has a related disability.
When the children are asked if they will touch any strange objects they may find in the refugee camp or anywhere else, they all loudly shout: No! The team smiles: it’s been a job well done.
With waves and smiles, the team bids farewell to the first group of children and moves on to the next. MAG Community Liaison teams have so far provided risk education to more than 8,000 children in the Doro refugee camp, most of them below the age of ten.