A Toy Story in Mahama

Even for the smallest children of Mahama, a stray bottle cap and a recent rain can create the perfect conditions for sailing a boat down a mighty river. Even in the harsh life of a refugee camp, a child’s imagination will always roam free.

Mahama camp – 21 December 2015: Store-bought toys for children are non-existent in Rwanda’s Mahama refugee camp, where over 45,000 Burundian refugees have fled because of political violence in their own country. The natural childhood instinct to play remains strong, however. Young boys and girls create their own toys out of leftover trash, twigs, and their irrepressible ingenuity.

truck
Kennedy Mukama, 12, learned from his older brother how to create a truck made of sticks held together with straw, using wheels borrowed from discarded bottles of oil, vaseline, and skin cream. Kennedy says he would like to transport a cow in the back of his truck.

Sandrine Kamariza, 11, pulls her sister Consolate, 2, every day in what the children call a “car” assembled from a crushed water container and a blue rope stripped from mosquito netting. Sandrine reports that she never tires of pulling her sister and that Consolate has never fallen out of her seat at any speed.

926
Homemade kites become a popular toy during the rainy season when winds grow strong. Sometimes a kite is little more than an empty plastic bag attached to a string for hours of pleasure.

Jean de Dieu Nsabimana, 10, and Stellebe Isengwe, 6, treasure a green plastic bag that they are manufacturing into a kite that they insist is really an “airplane”. Jean and Stellebe admit that they would prefer a football, but they say that at least their airplane is better than a bicycle, because they never had an opportunity to learn how to ride a bike.

kites
Fiston Iratuzi, 8, improvised his special truck from a plastic soda bottle, a medicine bottle, a bottle of alcohol tonic that he promises he did not drink, and eight wheels from water container caps and soda bottle tops – pulled with a string stripped from a grain sack. Fiston confides that if he could assemble a real-life truck, he would want to drive it to visit the home he misses in Burundi.

green
Even for the smallest children of Mahama, a stray bottle cap and a recent rain can create the perfect conditions for sailing a boat down a mighty river. Even in the harsh life of a refugee camp, a child’s imagination will always roam free.

another