Whatever possessed me to take my daughter aged 8 and son aged 5 with me to a refugee Camp. In Nigeria. On my own. In the (wet/dry/ malaria) season. The fact that their father, a sensible and quiet 40 something went along with it, confirms to me yet again that I did indeed marry the right man. I could not have done this without the support of my family and for that, I thank you.
So I arrived, well packed with two children in tow, at Durumi refugee camp in Abuja. I wanted them to see what life was like for other children – children who didn’t have squabbles about who got to charge their tablet first, or whinge about which high priced toy they didn’t get from Santa. I wanted them to have some perspective I guess and develop empathy. It was successful, in part.
We travelled to Nigeria with nine suitcases of essentials. I laugh at myself with hindsight. Toys, clothes, books donated by their school and collected by friends. The children helped me pack. Micah aged five, kept picking up toys and saying ‘mum, but I am still playing with that!’. He would sulk for a few minutes until he got distracted by something else. My daughter, saw it as a novel idea and kept suggesting bizzarre ideas for fundraising for the camp with her friends.
Whilst they were excited to go, I was petrified about all that could go wrong! Would they accept food from random strangers and fall ill? Would they run into the road? How will they cope with the heat? I had my dear friend Abby with me to tag team. Abby, thank you.
Our last day at the camp involved us running a small health clinic and a sports day. Abby, JJ and I are all doctors. We encouraged the teachers to bring any children whose health they were concerned about to see us under a small stand in the compound. When we were done, we played a few sporty games, taught the children about fitness, exercise and fluids. We gave them a sports bottle and nutritional supplements that had been donated by our kind friends, families and supportive companies and retired for the evening.
Eventually, daparture day came and we left our new friends behind and headed back to less sunny climes. The children were very excited to tell their school about all they had seen and done. I found myself roped in to put together a powerpoint presentation for their assembly. Now their school is collecting more books, shirts and would like to do more partnering with children at Durumi. Thank you. Watch this space. We have a lot more arts and health to share with each other.
The first day we visited the camp, they got to sit in on one of the classes – it wasn’t long before Micah noticed lots of differences between their school and his. Many tables and chairs were falling apart, children were older than he expected for his class and there was some corporal punishment involved in their learning style :0
Interestingly, the children who were smacked were completely fine, the teachers were kind, the kids were not smacked in anger. My child however was terrified at the prospect of getting a single question wrong and getting smacked. Whilst I don’t advocate caning, I accepted that the way things are done there is different.
Our second visit to the school was about messy play, the children had gathered clay from a nearby stream. I was teaching them to work the clay, kneading and simple clay building techniques. They could create whatever they wanted. Children love messy play and these were no exception, even children who were not of school age came to join in. We all sat on the floor outside the classroom and created all-sorts!
Arts and crafts for me is healing. When I craft, I lose myself. I love being in that moment. Worries, fears and time seem to melt away. I felt such joy seeing children and adults alike doing just that. We had little ones clay coiling entire homesteads, televisions, memories of a former life, even guns and motorbikes. More than anything it allowed the adults to supervise and appreciate expression from the kids in all its forms. It also gave their mentors an idea of who to offer extra counselling to. It felt like a priceless day. Micah shared his toys as prizes for those with the best pieces and we went home happy.