By David Youngmeyer
Tartous, Syria, 3 December 2014 – Tens of thousands of pre-school children affected by the crisis in Syria are finding a renewed sense of happiness through new play kits that have been donated by IKEA.
UNICEF is working in partnership with IKEA to provide 1,050 Early Childhood Development (ECD) kits to Syria as part the Back to Learning initiative 2014/15. This will help UNICEF reach out to 52,500 pre-school children across the country, including in hard-to-reach areas such as Hassakeh.
The IKEA kits are a combination of UNICEF’s ECD kit – designed for children under the age of six living in extreme conditions – plus a number of high-quality IKEA toys. The IKEA toys include hand puppets, finger puppets with accompanying stage, coloured blocks, and a sort and stack set.
The Ahlam Al-Tofoola kindergarten, which is connected to a primary school and caters to 110 pre-school age children, recently received four IKEA ECD kits. Around 50 of the children have been displaced from their homes in other areas of Syria to Tartous, due to the conflict. The kindergarten is in Tartous, a port city in western Syria which hosts hundreds of thousands of children and families displaced by fighting from other parts of Syria.
Rokan (6) and her brother Mahmoud (5) – who were displaced from their home in Aleppo city around two years ago – are among the first children at the kindergarten to have access to the newly-arrived IKEA ECD kit. They eagerly join with the other children in their class to play with the colourful IKEA toys that are an integral part of the kit.
“I loved playing with the new toys,” says Rokan after class. The hand puppet was a particular favourite. “I love everything about school. I like to learn and have friends to play with,” says Rokan.
Rokan and Mahmoud’s mother, Sabeen*, says that her children had difficulty sleeping in Aleppo and were afraid of the sounds of war. The family took the tough decision to leave the city when the fighting came close to their community and a local mosque was destroyed. Since attending a UNICEF school club and now the kindergarten, Sabeen has noticed a significant improvement in her children’s behaviour: “They are sleeping better, and are more talkative and enthusiastic about learning now,” says Sabeen.
Principal of Ahlam Al-Tofoola kindergarten, Najwa Najm, says the IKEA ECD kits are a big hit with children: “The children really love it and interacted with the toys. When their parents came to collect them they were so engaged that they didn’t want to leave the kindergarten.”
Najm says that although the kindergarten already had a number of toys, it lacked toys which were more entertaining for the children. “The IKEA toys are very entertaining and of high quality: the children enjoy them so much.”
“The puppets, for example, help stimulate children’s imaginations when they are creating their own stories,” says Najm.
“The toys will help to develop children’s skills such as sorting, classifying, spatial reasoning, and differentiating sizes and shapes. The toys also help children to work together with other children and interact socially.”
Najm says that teachers at the kindergarten will develop, with the help of the manual in the kit, activities to utilize each of the toys: “All of the children will have the chance to play with each of the toys.”
“Early childhood learning plays a key role in enhancing readiness for school and capacity for life-long learning. But when young children are caught up in a conflict crisis, such as in Syria, the opportunity to experience childhood, playing with toys in a safe environment, can be lost,” says Tomoya Sonoda, Education Specialist with UNICEF Syria.
“With the ECD kits, teachers can use the IKEA and other materials to help create a reassuring and safe learning environment for conflict-affected children. The toys help to restore a sense of hope and normalcy among children.”
UNICEF acknowledges the important support of IKEA and the IKEA Foundation in making available high-quality IKEA toys to tens of thousands of pre-school children in conflict-affected Syria.