Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (UNHCR's World) - Rwanda: Children united

Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1996

It was a big day at the Rugunga Primary School when a truckload of "Peace Packs" arrived, filled with useful gifts from French children.

By Rugunga Primary School Kigali, Rwanda

It is 9 a.m. a special morning at the Rugunga Primary School, in the suburbs of Kigali, Rwanda. Hundreds of children wait with growing impatience for the arrival of the UNHCR trucks. They are waiting for "Peace Packs" parcels individually prepared for them by children in the far-off country of France.

When the trucks appear on the road, the children begin to clap their hands. "The presents, the presents!" they shout.

Amid much jostling and excitement, the packages are distributed to each child. And each child finds notebooks, coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser and a ruler, a t-shirt, underwear, some toiletries, a toy and a little note or a drawing from the French children who put the packages together. The toothbrush is an intriguing and very precious object, a real luxury. But the magic slates, the balloons and the tiny cars cause the greatest excitement.

The 8,400 little packages that arrived at Kigali airport some days earlier were collected under the "Peace Pack" project, which was jointly launched at the end of 1993 by UNHCR and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Since then, more than 250,000 individual parcels have been prepared in some 40 different countries, involving 1.7 million young Guides, Scouts and the Scout movement as a whole.

In France, as elsewhere, the campaign has served as a good opportunity to raise public awareness of the plight of refugees. In addition to making the Peace Packs, Guides and Scouts around the world have studied the refugee situation, held group discussions, viewed films of various UNHCR operations and activities, played a simulation game aimed at teaching them more about flight and exile, and held public collections to gather the items that go into the Packs.

The hundreds of thousands of Peace Packs have been shipped to refugee camps worldwide, most of them at no charge thanks to the generosity of several international shipping and transport companies. They are handed out to refugee, displaced or repatriated children by UNHCR staff or non-governmental organization personnel.

In one of the packages delivered to Kigali was a note from Hannah: "My friends of Rwanda, I have heard about you on television. I am thinking about you and am sending you this little package. I send you a hug and hope that all these things will be useful for you. Signed: A little girl from France, Hannah."

Thousands of similar messages have crossed continents and oceans: from Japan to Afghanistan, Great Britain to Côte d'Ivoire, South Korea to Sri Lanka, the Nordic countries to Tajikistan, Australia to Kenya, Canada to Mozambique. The list goes on and on. In other countries, like Guatemala, the project has helped to renew the ties between those who stayed at home and those who are coming back from years in exile.

The initiative has also made local children aware of the refugees in their own countries. In Romania, for example, the distribution of Peace Packs to Albanian, Afghan, Iranian and Somali refugee children in a camp at Gociu was the springboard for a local project by Romanian children to involve the refugees in their own society and activities.

Today, the delegates of the French Guide and Scout movement who came to help distribute the packages in Rwanda have found in the children's laughter ample reward for many months of hard work by their associations. At Rugunga, international solidarity wears the face of a happy child who has just received a gift. The picture of Marie's beaming smile as she cuddles her new white teddy bear is the most beautiful return gift she could make to the children in far-off France who sent it to her

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (1996)