Kevin is a fourteen-year-old boy who, among his many talents, has amazing artistic abilities. During a finger painting activity organised by Save the Children at a mission in the western town of Duekoué, where an estimated 27,000 people have sought refuge with approximately two-thirds of them children, Kevin impressed everyone with his skills.
When asked what he thinks about when he paints, he said, “I think about my home, where I used to draw with my friends. When we were together we would draw, and we would play. Then the war happened and my family came to the mission, but my friends and I were separated. I had one friend who liked to draw; he drew so well… I draw when I think about him, that’s why I draw now.”
Many of the children’s paintings depicted the happy home in Kevin’s thoughts; homes painted with gardens of flowers and near friends that they had to abruptly leave. While the children painted, some offered detailed accounts of their pictures, as the activity provided a safe space and an opportunity for the children to freely express themselves artistically and verbally. And for some, the paintings revealed the reality of Ivory Coast’s post-election crisis for displaced children – with the inclusion of guns, military vehicles and soldiers.
Kevin vividly recalled leaving his home. “All throughout the neighbourhood people were breaking into the shops and taking people’s things”, he said. The next day they started firing [guns]… That’s when we went into a yard and we spent two days in that yard… A lot of people fled to the mission. Our neighbourhood was empty. They came and they burned down the houses. So my mother took us and said we had to go to the mission.”
The children and their families in Duekoué camp have survived loss and pain. Children are resilient and for many, a way of coping is by doing normal childhood activities. Talking to the children, they all said they wanted to return to school. Returning to school would provide them with a safe environment and a daily routine.
“It hurts me because other students in other cities are going to school but in my city we can’t go to school – it hurts, because we’re falling behind,” Kevin said. Most of the children have been out of school for four to six months, and Kevin added, “It’s not good. In 2002, I missed a year of school – and in 2005 almost a whole year as well. It’s not good for me.”
Kevin’s mother added, “These children, they’re passing their time here, they’re getting older and the years are slipping away. This is trapping the children, they’re falling behind.”
Save the Children firmly believes that school is a critical need and right for all children. Our education team is actively working here in the camp and around Ivory Coast to ensure that Kevin and his peers have access to temporary learning spaces providing advanced learning programmes to cover the months of missed school, therapeutic art and recreational activities until formal schools are accessible so that they don’t “fall behind” any further.