Laughter. Face painting. A few spunky kids telling jokes. It was the kind of scene you’d expect at a party for children anywhere around the world. This one just happened to be in Kampala, Uganda and most of the children enjoying the festivities were, in fact, refugees.
But this event was not about the homes that they had lost or about their current status. It was simply a moment for them to be young and to enjoy life.
June 16 is ‘Day of the African Child’, a day specially designated by the African Union to highlight the rights of children on the continent. It is also a commemoration of the schoolchildren who were massacred in Soweto, South Africa during a 1976 protest against the lack of quality education and overall inequality under the apartheid regime.
Two boys, Ishara Bagalwa and Modest Bokwala, both 13, acted as emcees for the entire event.
“They were real naturals on stage, taking over the whole proceedings,” said Aaron Gershowitz, HIAS’ associate vice president for global programs operations, who was visiting HIAS Uganda at the time. “They had the whole place cracking up with jokes in 3 languages – English, Swahili and Luganda.”
Approximately 200 children, ages 5 to 18, took part in the event, which was organized by HIAS Uganda. They took part in activities like face painting and solving puzzles. Children also entertained the crowd with songs, dance and poetry readings.
“The children we work with have been through so much. We wanted to give them a day where they could just be kids and have fun,” said Devota Nuwe, Director of HIAS Uganda. “Everyone really let their hair down and had a blast.”
Uganda is currently home to more than half a million refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and South Sudan. HIAS Uganda is based in Kampala, the capital city, which is home to more than 74,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.