We are used to hearing about the European refugee crisis in the media, but another crisis is unfolding on the African continent. Uganda hosts the fifth highest number of refugees in the world (UNHCR, 2017), with many refugee settlements across the country, including Bidi Bidi, the world's second largest. Hundreds of thousands come from South Sudan, where violence restarted in 2016. Refugees also come to Uganda from Eritrea, Somalia and DRC.

The delivery of East African Playgrounds programme has expanded in response to this crisis, to help some of the most vulnerable children in the world recover through play. We now deliver our play programme, including the installation of play facilities for children, and training for teachers and communities, in Early Child Development centres in refugee settlements across Uganda, supported by our partners including UNICEF and Plan International.

Uganda now is home to the second largest refugee settlement in the world

63% of refugees from South Sudan are children (UNHCR, 2017),  many with special needs including learning difficulties, physical disabilities and emotional difficulties caused by trauma. These children have had their worlds turned upside down. They have travelled hundreds of miles from their homes, lost family members and many have experienced violence themselves. They don’t understand fully what is happening, or why. Some may even have made the journey alone.  

Once they reach the settlements, families slowly begin to rebuild their lives. Food, water and other supplies are provided. There are even some limited educational facilities. But, these traumatised children are missing out on something essential that’s so often forgotten, especially when other needs come first – the chance to play. With such limited space, there often are no play facilities or child friendly areas. 

Refugee settlement temporary school

Play for child refugees 

Play is incredibly important for these child refugees, especially those who have experienced trauma. Uganda’s refugee settlements are a diverse mixture of cultures, ethnic groups and tribes, with many languages. Play breaks down barriers between these groups, and helps to build a sense of community and support for children, reducing anxiety and helping them resolve internal and external conflict.

With vast numbers of refugees flooding the settlements, a child’s chance to play is restricted due to time, space and the lack of stimulating environments. A child also needs the acknowledgment of the importance of play, that this is an activity that is allowed. This is why playgrounds play such an important role, as it is a structure built specifically with and for children, showing them the importance of play and giving them their own area to create, explore and discover. For children like these who have experienced trauma, play is important to help them process their experiences in a safe way.


East African Playgrounds believes all children deserve the chance to have a safe, creative and vibrant place to play and gain from all the developmental benefits that play has to offer.

We are now working with partners including UNICEF and Plan International to implement our play programme model in Early Child Development (ECD) centres in refugee settlements across Uganda, including Bidi Bidi, Rhino, Adjumani and others. 

Case study

In October 2016, East African Playgrounds has installed 15 playgrounds in 3 refugee settlements in the West Nile region of Uganda, working with UNICEF and Plan International, to provide integrated ECD services and child friendly spaces to host and refugee communities. The project benefitted 11,332 children, providing them with a safe place to play.

One of the children said “I travelled to this settlement with my two younger brothers, it took us five days. We are pleased to see a place where we can play and meet different children”.

Our evaluation showed that the playground displayed full refugee/host integration as well as an equal gender balance. Increases were further seen in social skills (71% of communities), physical skills (57%), cognitive skills (14%) and creative skills (15%) whilst there was also a decrease in anti-social behaviour (43%).  ECD centre attendance also increased.

A teacher said ‘‘We have already seen an increase in attendance at the centre in anticipation for the playground opening, it is wonderful that the children have an extra incentive to come to learn, the playground will really add to the teaching abilities of the centre.”

By implementing our play and playground programme we can start to work to rebuild these children’s lives through the language they know best - play. 

Each playground we build will benefit 1,500 children during its lifetime. With your help, we can reach more children. Our vision is to have playgrounds and play schemes in all of Uganda's refugee settlements by 2020.  You can help us achieve this.

Child refugees swinging on a swing

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