Forty four refugee children, all currently receiving therapy from HIAS’ trained staff, enjoyed a day out at the St. Henry recreation ground in Kampala, Uganda recently. There were numerous activities, including face painting, races, dancing competitions and a bouncy castle. “They realize they can have fun despite the many challenges they have gone through,” said Timothy Mukua, psychosocial program manager at HIAS Uganda.
The day finished with a buffet lunch and cake. For those who are in individual rather than group counseling, this was an opportunity to meet other children in the program for the first time. “We mix all nationalities,” said Mukua. “We had Somalis, Congolese, Burundians and Rwandans. We bring all the children together and if they don't know the language we pair them with another child who does.”
The outing has real benefits for the children according to Mukua, who is a licensed psychological counselor. “It’s an opportunity for the children to feel welcomed, loved and accepted in this world. It’s an opportunity to rekindle their hope, despite facing whatever crisis that led them to flee from their country of origin.”
Even children who are normally withdrawn came out of their shells during the outing. Mukua described one teenage boy, a Somali refugee, who rarely plays or engages with anything on his own initiative. Even that boy could not resist the face painting and castle climbing. “I choose to be face painted [as a] Ninja warrior, my favorite cartoon. I feel stronger as a Ninja,” the boy said.
“One comment I got from the counselors is that, when resume counselling sessions they went back, they were really talking. Even those who are normally so closed — this gave them a chance to start opening up,” Mukua said.
“I have never jumped and bounced this much! I haven’t had fun for a long time. Since we fled to Uganda, my sister cannot afford even our rent, but HIAS has made me feel so appreciated,” one girl, a Congolese teen orphaned by the conflict, shared with joy.
The fun and excitement also provided an important way to blow off steam. “For example, the bouncy castle had a place where children could kick some tubes. It's a way to let anger out in a positive way,” Mukua explained.
The quarterly event is for children beneficiaries of group and individual counseling. It is part of a sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response program for urban refugees that is funded by the U.S. State Department.
For children coping with so much, the chance to have fun and be a child again is immensely therapeutic. “If you get one minute to laugh, or one minute to smile, even if you go back to your stress again it will not be the same stress. It will have lightened up a bit,” Mukua says. “Having a chance to play gives them a big jump in their healing.”