French youngsters donate toys to uprooted children in Liberia
PARIS, France, July 4 (UNHCR) - A containerload of toys donated by hundreds of French schoolchildren left Paris on Friday bound for Liberia, where the playthings will be given to children forced to flee their homes during the West African nation's civil war. The toys were taken to Brussels and loaded onto a flight for Africa.
This second annual collection of toys was organized by the Quai Branly Museum and the UN refugee agency, while the Aviation Sans Frontières (Aviation without Borders) charity group arranged and bore the cost of the flight to the Liberia capital, Monrovia. Last year's haul of toys went to refugee children in Chad.
The museum, which opened two years ago on a site near the Eiffel Tower, specializes in primitive and indigenous art, cultures and civilizations from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. It regularly organizes seminars and museum visits for children, hoping to stimulate their interest in different arts and cultures.
Over the past year, children have been taking part in weekly workshops called "The Other Toy." They each bring in one of their own toys in good condition and then make another toy from recyclable materials after seeking inspiration from the museum exhibits and toys brought from Africa by Kra N'Guessan, who leads the workshops.
The treasures he shows to the French children include toys made by children in places like Côte d'Ivoire or Senegal, such as a car put together from two pens, four corks and a soda can, or a doll made from a gourd and representing an African woman wearing a traditional boubou robe and carrying a baby on her back.
Since last September, more than 1,500 children and about 60 schools all over France have taken part in the project and donated hundreds of toys. These, which will be distributed to community centres and schools by UNHCR staff in Liberia, included teddy bears, dolls, cars and board games, but nothing that needed batteries. "I hope they will love it because it is one of my favourites," said a 10-year-old girl, who donated one of her dolls. Others gave away once beloved toys that they had grown out of.
The Aviation Sans Frontières flight with its precious cargo of toys is expected to arrive in Monrovia over the weekend. Members of the aviation charity helped staff from UNHCR and the museum pack the toys.
The UN refugee agency repatriated more than 100,000 Liberian refugees between October 2004 and June last year. Another 50,000 returned home on their own, encouraged by the restoration of peace and democracy since 2003. Some 325,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have also returned home.
Meanwhile, UNHCR resumed its voluntary assisted repatriation operation for Liberian refugees earlier this year following a tripartite meeting in April with the governments of Ghana and Liberia. The agency continues to take part in efforts to ease the reintegration of refugees and IDPs returning home, including education projects.
By Marie-Ange Lescure in Paris, France