Growing Up in a Refugee Camp [Photos]
Morning breaks over Shimelba refugee camp in northern Ethiopia. The mud brick houses with thatched roofs are home to around 11,000 refugees who have fled from persecution in neighboring Eritrea. Many of the refugees are children and teenagers who now face life growing up in a refugee camp in a foreign country.
The day starts early for many youngsters, who have to help collect water for their families. Their houses don’t have running water inside. But the IRC pipes clean drinking water to a series of points around the camp. The refugees then line up with their plastic containers for their turn at the tap.
Here teenage girls use traditional-style carriers – make of a wooden pole and twine – to transport their colorful plastic containers home. Other children use creaky old wheelbarrows to ferry their cargo around the camp.
Once the daily chores are done, it’s time for classes. The IRC runs a free primary and lower secondary school in Shimelba, offering pupils a chance to continue their education despite their displacement. We provide school materials, teacher training and salaries, and a hot nutritious snack for the younger pupils.
Young children aged four to six go to the IRC’s preschools. The children are encouraged to learn through play. Preschool director Genet Fitwi says: “Play is a lesson in itself. Children should learn to play well together and explore and ask questions.”
After-school and weekend activities include pool, table tennis, art, music and board games at the IRC’s two youth centers.
Youth leader Pietro Fernando says it’s vital to keep children and teenagers active, as living in a small refugee camp – and not being able to travel outside without permission – can be depressing if there’s nothing to do all day.
The IRC has organized a formal football (soccer) league for older youth in Shimelba, with eight teams competing for the highly-prized league title. No doubt inspired by the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations, young boys also hold an informal knock-about whenever and wherever they can.