CAR War Child project Child Friendly Spaces

Child-friendly spaces give children respite from the horrors of war and help restore some normality to their lives.

The on-going crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has forced one million people to flee their homes. Hundreds of thousands are seeking safety in neighbouring countries, with those that remain facing a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Armed groups and escalating violence has plunged the most vulnerable families into food insecurity. At present, one million people are living in the shadow of hunger. Families sheltering in the country’s swelling camps urgently require water and sanitation. Many areas remain too dangerous for aid agencies to reach affected civilians.

Among those affected by the daily violence and human rights violations are children and youth, many of whom have directly witnessed the killing of loved ones. As the conflict escalates, children are estranged from their families. At least 6,000 others are estimated to be involved with armed forces and armed groups. Girls in particular, are vulnerable to gender-based violence and exploitation.

Protecting children

In March, Islamic Relief began supporting ‘Child-Friendly Spaces’ in Bangui. Here, children can feel safe, stimulated and supported to help overcome some of the physical, emotional and psychological traumas of war. Working with War Child UK and its local partner Enfants Sans Frontiers (ESF), three spaces were established for children to participate in informal education and psychosocial activities, giving them respite from the hostile environment and restoring some sense of normality to their lives.

Among the 8,000 children to access the facilities, those in need of specialist support are identified and referred for further interventions including physical protection, healthcare, psychological support, education and efforts to reunite with their families.

In addition, 200 of the most high risk children – those associated with armed forces and armed groups or victims of gender-based violence – are being given specialist community-based support. Around 1,000 members of the wider community are also being trained to better recognise and support children’s needs in a war context.

Antoine’s story

Thirteen-year-old Antoine* is one of the children to benefit from the protective environment of the Child-Friendly Space in Bangui. In December 2013, he fled his home with his grandmother and disabled mother amidst sounds of gunfire and bombardment. They have since been living in one of the makeshift camps in Bangui, where thousands of displaced people are in need of emergency aid.

When Antoine was assessed at the Child-Friendly Space in March, he was still in a state of shock. He was frightened and disorientated and the child protection teams discovered that he had witnessed killing, violence and raids, all of which he recalls vividly.

Antoine now attends the Child-Friendly Space regularly, where he enjoys playing football and meeting friends. He misses his home and school terribly, but he now has the space to process those feelings and come to terms with the instability and hostility of his new environment. The Child Friendly Space for Antoine is a small haven of hope and normality amidst the horrors of war and the uncertainty of everything else in his life.

*Name changed for protection and security purposes – photographs for illustrative purposes only

Since January, Islamic Relief has also been providing humanitarian assistance to thousands of CAR refugees in Chad, including food, sleeping mats, hygiene items and raising health awareness to prevent the outbreak of disease in camps. Please support our work: donate today.