Early Childhood Development Programs in Rwanda’s Refugee Camps Help to Address the Psychological Impact of Forced Displacement

Today UNHCR and its partners ensure that 7147 refugee children are enrolled in Early Child Development programs throughout Rwanda.

Jeanne and her eight children have been refugees in Rwanda since 2013, when they were forced to flee violence from their country, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Jeanne is now raising her children in Mugombwa camp, home to more than 8,600 Congolese refugees also forced to rebuild their lives.

Forced displacement can have psychological consequences on anyone, but it can be especially devastating for young children. The youngest refugee children require special attention as the first five years of development play a vital role in the cognitive development including formation of intelligence, personality and social behaviors later impacting on life, including participation and productivity in their communities.

Mugombwa refugee camp: Thanks to the generous contributions from the Embassy of Japan, 1,310 children are enrolled in ECD, where they get basic education, play, sing and interact with other children, forming important aspects of healthy early childhood development. On the photo: IGIZENEZA Ornella and MUMARARUNGU Queen in the class. © UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana

Therefore, with different partners including the World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and ADRA, UNHCR prioritizes Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs in all 6 refugee camps in Rwanda to target young children from ages 1 to 6 years. Through playful interventions that engage young children, as well as their parents or caregivers, ECD programs ensures these children are physically and emotionally healthy, and remain intellectually curious.

“ECD has significant benefits — children who attend these programs are one way or another protected and ECD leads to better outcomes in education,” says Charles Munyaneza, UNHCR’s Education Associate based in Kigali.  “Furthermore, ECD increases social and identity development through interactions between caring adults and other children, creating a sense of belonging and promoting resilience of refugee children.”

Thanks to the generous contributions from the Embassy of Japan in 2015, Mugombwa refugee camp ECD program counts 1,310 children, where they get basic education, play, sing and interact with other children, forming important aspects of healthy early childhood development. Today 7,147 refugee children are enrolled in ECD programs throughout Rwanda.

The ECD program also welcomes Rwandan children from the neighboring community to play and socialize with refugee children. There are currently 48 Rwandan children attending the program in Mugombwa camp. Both refugee and Rwandan parents are praising the benefits of ECD programs, and especially welcome the school feeding programs to help ensure their children are being properly nourished while learning.

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ECD Children pose for a group photo in front of their class with their daily tutors. © UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana

Jeanne is thrilled to have her two youngest children, attending the program. “Since 2013 we have been in this refugee life. Although my younger children need special attention, their specific needs could not be immediately addressed upon arrival as we had to prioritize shelter, food, and other important interventions. The ECD program in Mugombwa camp has been the solution to access adequate protection appropriate for their ages,” she said.

“We are grateful to UNHCR for this heavenly gift to these little children. Our children are now in a protected environment, where they are educated, they play and make new friends from inside the camp and outside,” she added.

Established in early 2014, Mugombwa refugee camp is located in the Southern Province of Rwanda, Gisagara district and is home to more than 8,600 Congolese refugees who fled from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013.

Eugene Sibomana

Communications/PI Associate, UNHCR                            

E-mail: [email protected]