After spending weeks in Bangui, where many Muslims cannot leave their homes for fear of attacks, I found it refreshing to visit Kaga Bandoro in the north of Central African Republic (CAR).
Here, I witnessed Muslim and Christian children playing together in the Child Friendly Spaces (CFSs) that Save the Children have set up to provide a safe environment for these children to play, learn and recover after all they have been through. CAR has been in crisis for over a year now.
Muslims and Christians in fragile harmony:
In Kaga Bandoro, Muslims and Christians continue to live side by side, albeit under a huge amount of pressure.
In this difficult context, Save the Children hosted an open day at one of our CFSs to give parents of all religions an opportunity to come and see what their children gain from the structured singing, playing , dancing and other activities provided in this safe space.
Helping children learn:
I spoke to one mother whose three children visit the CFS three times a week. She said " I am happy that my children come here, as it is a way for them to learn," she said. The children were clearly having lots of fun competing in mini sports matches and obstacles races and then racing to a drinks stand to gulp down the water provided.
But more surprisingly for me, it was the parents who seemed to be gaining the most enjoyment from the activities. Watching their faces as they saw their children running around, having fun, I realised that this chance to sit down and relax was probably a rarity for them, too. The town of Kaga Bandoro is not hooked up to the national electricity grid, so there isn't even TV to provide light relief from their tense and dangerous situation. But here, in a dusty field, the air was filled with laughter, clapping and whooping as children were cheered on.
No real safety anywhere:
Despite this scene of seeming harmony, the reality is that there are currently four armed groups operating in Kaga Bandoro, each ready to spring into action at the slightest aggravation. Even during our open day event a vehicle drove by very slowly, filled with armed men. Many parents and children looked ready to run, but luckily, in this case, the driver decided to carry on by.
Save the Children's CFSs are crucial as they provide a safe space for children to play and learn. Many use them as a place where they can step away from the unrest and violence that surround them, if only for a few hours.