20 June 2023 - Global

From braiding to carving and to kicking a ball – refugee children use hobbies to ease into new homes

Samuel*, 13, holding his football in the settlement where his family lives in Ogoja, Nigeria

Samuel*, 13, holding his football in the settlement where his family lives in Ogoja, Nigeria. Save the Children

LONDON/GENEVA: 20 June 2023 – Save the Children has launched a photo series to celebrate the resilience of refugee children, following a year when numbers of refugees around the world reached a record high. 

In 2023, nearly 110 million people were displaced worldwide, forced from their homes by war, conflict, hunger, drought and climate change.

In May and June this year, Save the Children interviewed refugee children in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Peru and Ukraine, many of whom have taken dangerous journeys to unfamiliar countries. En route, some encountered dead bodies and were forced to eat leaves to survive, while others waded through rivers and hid in forests.

Now living in relative peace, these boys and girls are using familiar hobbies and pastimes to help them adapt to a new life.

Tariqul*, 13: From Myanmar to Bangladesh


Tariqul*, 13, holding his football in the field where he plays football with his friends (Save the Children)

Conflict and humanitarian crises have forced nearly 1 million refugees from Myanmar, half of whom are children, to make the harrowing journey to Bangladesh since 2017. 

13-year-old Tariqul* said his family experienced “immense suffering” during their five-day journey to Bangladesh. They saw dead bodies on route and only survived by eating tree leaves and drinking contaminated water - “My sister and I cried from hunger” - he recalled.  

This traumatic journey took its toll on Tariqul*:   

“I have witnessed destruction along the path of coming to this country. During those times, I would be terrified by the sound of gunfire. I have seen fire and heard distant explosions.   

“At a very young age, I understood what conflict meant. This conflict had brought our entire family to a foreign land among unfamiliar people.”  

Tariqul visits Save the Children’s MPCAC (Multi-Purpose Child and Adolescent Centre) every day after school, where he gets to play his favourite sport – football:  

"After coming to Bangladesh from Myanmar, everyone here, including people of my age or others, were all strangers to me. I didn't know anything here; I had lost all my friends.  

“When I started playing football, I made new friends in the new country. I enjoy playing football with them. We organise tournaments...I am the captain of my team, and everyone likes me a lot. Moreover, during football matches I can forget all my sorrows and hardships.”  

Safe in Bangladesh, Tariqul later learned his entire village had been burnt down:  

“Many families lost their loved ones in Myanmar. Many people died. We couldn't sleep peacefully. Even during the day, we were afraid to come out of our houses. We didn't get a chance to play.   

“But here we are safe and healthy, leaving all the sorrows behind.”

Joseph*, 13 and Martin*, 12: From Cameroon to Nigeria


Joseph*, 13, and Martin*, 12, working on pieces of sculpture in the settlement where they live in Nigeria (Save the Children)

Clashes between armed groups in Cameroon have forced thousands of families to flee their homes, with some 86,000 people seeking refuge in neighbouring Nigeria. An estimated 80 percent are women and children.

In 2021, 12-year-old Martin* and his family travelled for a month to reach Nigeria from his village in Cameroon. Initially moving from one refugee settlement to another, when the family finally settled down, Martin was delighted to resume a familiar pastime:

“I find great joy in the art of carving and moulding from clay. In Cameroon, I primarily worked with sand for moulding, whereas in Nigeria, I have seen a significant improvement in my sculpting skills. Although I am somewhat shy, I have received praise and admiration for my artwork.

“Engaging in this hobby has also introduced me to new friends in the settlement. They continuously encourage me to excel in sculpting. Whenever I witness my friend Joseph* creating sculptures, it inspires me to join him and strive for greater heights.”

13-year-old Joseph* and his family spent three years in the forest in Cameroon trying to shelter from armed groups. Eventually, his mother used all her money to pay for safe passage to Nigeria:

“Since arriving in Nigeria, my sculpting abilities have greatly improved, as I have been able to practice it every day - I have surpassed my own expectations and find myself sculpting more frequently compared to when I was in Cameroon.

“The process of sculpting offers me much delight.

“When I finish a sculpture, I receive praise and recognition, which fuels my motivation to continue. I also believe that sculpting will assist me in the future.”

After school, Martin and Joseph attend a Save the Children safe space for children and youth where they can continue lessons:

“I am particularly fond of the educational system in Nigeria because, unlike in Cameroon where I had to drop out of school for nearly five years, I have been given the opportunity to return to school here,” said Joseph.

Dima*, 11 and Sofia*, 14: From Ukraine to Poland


Dima*, 11, holding a ball in the family home in Poland (Save the Children)

Since war escalated in February last year, over 8 million people have fled Ukraine. The majority –an estimated 90%, are women and children.

From Ukraine, 11-year-old Dima* and his 14-year-old sister Sofia* initially found it hard to adapt to life in Poland.  For the first few months, Dima and Sofia withdrew, refused to eat, and found it hard to sleep.

Things got better when they enrolled at the local Polish school:

“My school in Poland is the best. My classmates always respect me there. They understand that there is war in Ukraine. They are often helping me during classes, and a friend of mine from my class taught me how to speak Polish.”

Joining the local football club has been key to Dima’s happiness, and has helped him integrate:

“I got inspired by how Messi and Ronaldo are playing with each other. I really enjoy playing soccer because they are super popular - and want to become like them myself.

“When I arrived in Poland, I was scared of people at first because I’m in a foreign country. But they started talking to us so kindly, that I got used to them, to Poland and to all Poles.”


Sofia*, 14, holding her guitar in the family's home in Poland (Save the Children)

In Ukraine, creative Sofia* learned the piano for five years. To help adapt to life in Poland, her mother bought her a guitar using cash assistance from Save the Children. She is now teaching herself to play:

“I want to be a musician.

“I like metal and rock music, and I listen to Lil Peep, Nirvana – and I listen to Ukrainian music. I also draw, paint my nails and create sculptures from plasticine. I like to create characters, and to sculpt and draw them.”

Victoria*, 7: From Venezuela to Peru

Maria and Victoria

 María* loves teaching Victoria* about the art of manicure (Miguel Angel Arreategui Rodriguen)

Nearly six million refugees from Venezuela live in countries across Latin America.

Seven-year-old Victoria’s* mother, María*, age 30, was unable to feed, clothe and educate her, so together they travelled from Venezuela to Peru in search of a better quality of life. “I didn't like the trip to Peru,” said Victoria, “We went from one bus to another; it was very hot. We went through rivers and trails.”

On arrival, María was busy at work and couldn’t take care of Victoria. So, with cash assistance from Save the Children, she started a home manicure, pedicure, and hairstyling business, enabling her to spend more time with her daughter. Victoria is an eager helper:

“My mom does nails and braided hairstyles. I like to be with her and keep her company when she works because I spend more time with her. I help her by passing her things she forgets like cotton and nail files.”

Victoria’s main passion, and a source of great comfort in her new home country, is looking after her dog:

“When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian, so that I can have a shelter and take care of the animals. My little dog is called "Pulgoso", we have had him for 6 months and I love him so much.”


Founded over 100 years ago, Save the Children has changed the lives of more than 1 billion children. Around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.




*All names changed to protect identities.

For further enquiries please contact:

Nina Teggarty, Global Media Manager (London) Nina.Teggarty@savethechildren.org

Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409












We stand side by side with children in the world's toughest places.