The journey of refugees seeking safety is filled with distressing events, and the impact of violence, separation, and fear persists even after they find sanctuary. TeamUp, a War Child programme designed to support refugee children in processing their experiences, has made a significant difference in the life of Nelson.
Nelson and his family had to leave their home in DR Congo and escape to safety in neighbouring Uganda after they were targeted by armed rebels.
The memory of that fateful night remains vivid in Nelson's father's mind. “It was two o’clock in the morning when rebels entered the local hospital and killed 50 people,” he recalls. “They then came our way with a letter - and it was clear they were looking for me.”
While Nelson's father managed to flee to Uganda, the rebels then turned their attention to Nelson himself. They issued a horrifying ultimatum, threatening to subject him to unimaginable harm unless his father returned the next day. It was at this moment that Nelson's mother made the courageous decision to escape with his family, leaving everything behind.
Following his father's footsteps, Nelson and the rest of the family embarked on a perilous journey to Uganda. "The journey was difficult and I feared for my safety," Nelson recalls. After several long weeks of uncertainty, the family was eventually reunited and found refuge in a refugee settlement.
Uganda's unique asylum reception system ensured the family was allocated their own plot of land, offering them a semblance of stability as they gradually rebuilt their lives. However, the complex emotions they carried with them persisted, particularly for Nelson.
Sometimes my head is so full of horrible experiences of war that I can't think properlyNelson, aged 15 years old, Uganda.
“I remember rebels targeting children. We saw dead bodies and heard bombs falling. I often have nightmares about what I've been through. I dream that I'm still in that situation."
These haunting feelings frequently manifest as aggressive behaviour. “When I think back to Congo, I get irritated,” Nelson says. “I get angry and I start fighting. But I don't want that at all…"
War Child facilitator Bosman plays a pivotal role in supporting children like Nelson through the transformative TeamUp programme. “We use sports and play activities to support children to deal with their feelings and regain confidence in themselves and others,” he explains.
“All the activities are linked to themes such as fear, bullying, anger and friendship. For example, if we see that children are struggling with a lot of anger, we choose activities linked to the theme of conflict. The children learn through play that fighting is not the solution to problems.”
Nelson takes part in all the activities and Bosman has seen him make real progress. "Nelson was a real fighter but I can see him moving forward during the sessions. He's got his anger under control and is making new friends."