the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Bidibidi Refugee Settlement: activities to support psychosocial wellbeing

on March 14, 2020

This week I began the second in a series of activities offering support to parents of young children attending Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) centres on the settlement. The purpose is to strengthen the psychosocial wellbeing of children by encouraging greater parental involvement. The flight to safety from conflict in South Sudan has created a legacy of loss among families on the settlement. Loss of extended family connections – some have family members remaining in South Sudan, other families are dispersed across different refugee settlements in Uganda. Loss of home and land – some families have heard their houses are now occupied by others; there has also been much destruction of property and land during the conflict. Loss of a hoped-for future – parents who wanted to continue their education or further their careers now find themselves without educational or work opportunities. These losses can impact on the psychosocial wellbeing of parents who may find themselves increasingly unable to parent effectively given the instability of life as a refugee and the effects of poverty. (Although recently there have been encouraging signs of peace in South Sudan following  six years of civil war, refugees on the settlement have a ‘let’s wait and see’ attitude.) In terms of the psychosocial wellbeing of children, there is some research to suggest an intergenerational effect. Even children born in safety may share some of the wellbeing needs experienced by their parents.

As the ECCE centres are at an early stage of development, there are currently no referral systems in place to target specific support. (I am working on a database to address this by collecting information about children using the Washington Group of Questions.) For the time being, I extend an open invitation to my activities for all parents where ECCE centres are located in zone 3 of the settlement. Uptake varies according to the village but one session had over one hundred participants. In order to manage this number, I encourage skill sharing amongst parents so that those who engage with the tasks readily can support others.

‘Why play?’ is the title of the session and it considered the importance of parents taking time to play with their children. We discussed how play builds family bonds, opens lines of communication and trust which help to keep children safe, supports learning in the ECCE centre and is fun for the whole family.

As there are few resources on the settlement or money to purchase them, we focused on games that can be played without materials or using locally available materials. We made rhythms by participating in sound exercises using clapping and clicking games. Parents then worked in partners to do a mirroring activity (one was the leader, the other the mirror so the actions of the leader had to be copied simultaneously to imitate a reflection).


To play this game with children, parents need to sit on a chair or stool so that parents and children are about the same height. It’s a levelling exercise. When children understand the rules of the game, they can take the lead. This builds children’s self esteem as it’s rare to have occasions when adults are obliged to follow children. As leaders, this activity builds skills of imagination to create pleasing shapes. When children are the mirror, it builds concentration skills to copy accurately.

Participants enjoyed the practical aspect of the session and were keen to share their work with others. We also shared the international tradition of making string figures. (Now there’s a surprise, given that my novel is called The String Games and it’s up for a prize. Please vote here.)


I discovered new, complex string figures including the bed, sun, chicken’s feet and several more. They made my cup of tea figure seem very simple.

We ended with jumping and clapping activities which generated lots of laughter. Next week I’m taking activities to the settlement that encourage parents to engage in more talk with their children. Look out for news of how I get on by following this blog. To subscribe just add you details in the column to your right.



6 responses to “Bidibidi Refugee Settlement: activities to support psychosocial wellbeing

  1. jim bates says:

    Hi Gail! You are doing an incredible amount of wonderful work. Thank you for all you are doing and for keeping us updated. I’m looking forward to your next post. Here’s wishing you all the best!!

  2. Suzanne Goldring says:

    No self-isolation in evidence out there!Keep well and look forward to hearing all about your adventures in April in Cornwall. xx

    • gailaldwin says:

      Visitors from some countries (including the UK) have to self-isolate for two weeks on arrival (if well) and for two weeks in hospital (if showing symptoms). I only realised this week how desperate the situation is. I hope I can get home! Just discovered the date I anticipated travelling (and the agent confirmed) is a day earlier than my reservation shown on the Emirates website. I’ll get onto this on Monday.

  3. Paula Readman says:

    Your posts are so interesting. I remember doing the string games at school. Wonderful ❤️

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