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Through its early childhood development programme, UNICEF helps build a strong foundation for refugee children at Kigeme camp in Rwanda


KIGEME, Rwanda – The clapping grows louder as hundreds of onlookers cheer for their six young friends from the Democratic Republic of Congo who dance in front of the new education facilities.

Soon the children will be able to learn and play – reason enough to celebrate and fete at the hand-over ceremony at Kigeme refugee camp in southwestern Rwanda.

A chance to thrive and develop

The child dancers are among the 14,323 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who live in the camp, which is managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Within the camp, UNICEF, through Care International, is running an early childhood development (ECD) programme and also leads on providing safe water and sanitation and child protection.

“By now, we are reaching almost every child in the camp aged 6 years and below with ECD,” says UNICEF Rwanda Representative Noala Skinner. “This is essential because these early years are the one opportunity of a lifetime, when indestructible cognitive and social foundations are laid.

“Many of these children here did not have the easiest journey to date. Through our ECD programme, we are now giving them a chance to thrive and develop,” Ms. Skinner explains.

With funding from the Government of Brazil, UNICEF and its partners, including the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees Affairs and CARE International, have inaugurated new ECD centres that, for now, are set up in tents for children aged 4 to 6. There, the children can learn and play, and they receive healthy food. For children 3 and younger, locally trained volunteers run home-based ECD programmes.

“All of this is a really good start, and we will build on the fantastic momentum. We will distribute ECD kits and provide additional training for the volunteers to further strengthen the interventions,” says Ms. Skinner.


UNICEF ECD kits contain 40 different items that are designed to promote social interaction among the young children, as well as with their caregivers. They include dominos, colouring pencils, construction blocks, hand puppets, puzzle blocks and memory games, among others.

“We know from many similar situations that these educational kits are magnets for children,” says UNICEF Rwanda Education Specialist Henrich Rukundo Mutsinzi. To date, UNICEF has provided 60 such schools-in-a-box to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees Affairs for the camp, enough educational material for 4,800 students for three months.

“We are really pleased with the support we have received from UNICEF,” says Ministry of Education ECD Expert Innocent Nsengiyumva. “We now hope we can move the home-based ECD out of the shelters and we will be able to provide more training to the volunteer teachers.”

At the hand-over ceremony, UNICEF also provided the Government with 5,000 portable solar-powered radios to distribute at the camp. The yellow radios include built-in flashlights and a port to charge a cellphone.

“There are about 4,100 families in the camp. That means that every family and every shelter will receive a radio,” says UNICEF Rwanda Chief of Programme Communication Nana Garbrah-Aido. “The radios will enable the refugees to listen to public health information and the education programmes broadcast by the local community radio station. The torch is important, as there is limited electricity in the camp. We can also anticipate that some refugees will use the cellphone charger as a source to generate income.”

Reflecting on the programme, Ms. Skinner says, “There is a lot behind us and a lot ahead of us.”


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