Pakistan: Creating a childhood

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In Pakistan, more than 1 million people are internally displaced, meaning that many families with children are moving back and forth between their region of origin, IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps and host communities. 

“Either the children are on the move or they are staying in camps or communities with very limited facilities,” says Alexey Kruk, Handicap International’s regional coordinator. “In both cases, children are missing out on their childhood. In addition to the suffering caused by the displacements, children have to deal with extreme poverty. They are witnessing tensions and violence between those living in the IDP’s and the locals, who are already living in a disaster-prone environment with few opportunities.”

Handicap International is giving displaced children the right to be a child through the Growing Together project. Through the partnership with the IKEA Foundation, the Growing Together project creates opportunities to play in camps, amongst them Jalozai camp, one of the four IDP camps in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a province of Pakistan where more than 125,000 families are living.

“Jolazai is not a child-friendly environment,” says Kruk, coordinator of the Growing Together project in Pakistan. He states: “Children are extremely vulnerable. They face harsh weather conditions as nights get extremely chilly and the families have nothing but a tent and a blanket to protect them from the cold. The kids in the camp run a high risk of getting diseases and have to deal with parents who are depressed since they have nothing to do but stand in line for food distributions. Education services are very limited, and there are very few opportunities to relax or to play.”

Preparing children for challenges                                     

“Despite the hardship, these children have skills. They have hopes and dreams. To help them develop their skills, we have to give the children an opportunity to play and develop,” explains Kruk. 

“In the past, Handicap International created child-friendly spaces in Pakistan camps. It was interesting to see the spaces give children the opportunity to share their traumatizing experiences with a professional and with each other through play. Children feel safe in such a cocoon. They can breathe, revive, and grab the chance to be a child again, which is of key importance for their mental and physical health,” he continues.

Thanks to the new project, Handicap International can go one step further, and implement a regional approach. We will create safe and inclusive playgrounds in camps in three countries–Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand–and help local service providers to be more responsive to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable children.

“We focus on play, because play makes children more resilient to stress,” says Kruk. “And unfortunately, that’s what those children will need in life. Some of them will spend the rest of their lives in a camp, others will be forced to return to their places of origin. Through play, we hope to prepare them for those challenges.”

Life as a refugee child

Today, children with disabilities in the refugee camps can visit Handicap International’s center for rehabilitation services. Parents, family, and friends of each child are trained in rehabilitation exercises and care to ensure that progress isn't lost between sessions. Much of their exercise is done through play.

Other children in the camp are extremely vulnerable for other reasons. They are malnourished, in poor health, orphaned, or coming from traumatic backgrounds, and sometimes they are kept at home. Growing up in a refugee camp is already incredibly difficult, especially if you’re a child with a disability. That’s why we’ve started a new project–Growing Together–that gives displaced children the right to be a child.

Growing Together project

Growing Together is a four-year project in Thailand, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and is funded by the IKEA Foundation. Handicap International is creating inclusive spaces where children can come together–through play–to work through some of the challenges they face, especially children with disabilities. In addition to inclusive playgrounds, Growing Together will  target the youngest children who are at risk of developmental problems. Simultaneously, the program will engage local child development service providers and help them become more responsive to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable children. Learn more about the partnership.

Handicap International in Pakistan

Since the early 1980's, Handicap International has been working to improve the living conditions of those affected by natural disasters, especially people with disabilities. Today, our work focuses on natural disaster risk management and meeting the needs of people displaced by fighting in tribal areas in the northwest of the country. Learn more about our work in Pakistan.