Handmade Toys by the World’s Most Resilient Children

Displacement Faces of Hope

See what children can do with so little—even on the front lines of war and hunger.

The Washington Post recently highlighted how Rohingya children living in exile in Bangladesh are using discarded everyday objects—bottle caps, bits of plastic and metal, even a small AA battery—to create toys in the refugee camps they now call home.

The photos of these “unexpected toys” are a poignant reminder that even in the most dire conditions you can still find the creativity of children at play.

And it’s not just Bangladesh.

In places like South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, war has disrupted the childhoods of millions of boys and girls. Yet glimmers of joy and hope can still be found.

Below are scenes across the globe captured by photographers of the World Food Programme (WFP) showing what children can do with so little: Clay molded into a toy camera; an empty can of vegetable oil fashioned into a WFP truck; a racing car built out of recycled bottles—all reminders of young imaginations undimmed by violence and poverty.

A child in South Sudan stands next to a car made of recycled bottles at Uganda's BidiBidi, a refugee settlement; A child at the Koubigou IDP camp in Chad proudly displays the toy plane he made from an empty tin can; A child in Dodoma, Tanzania plays with a racing car he made out of sticks, string and an empty water bottle.

An estimated 50 million children worldwide are displaced by violence and natural disaster. In many cases, these children and their families were forced to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Many now rely on emergency food assistance from WFP to survive.

Using a used tin of fortified vegetable oil provided by the USAID, a boy in Mingkaman, South Sudan built a WFP truck, complete with wheels. He is one of 85,000 internally displaced people in the settlement who rely on food assistance from WFP. "Necessity is the mother of invention," as the WFP photographer who captured this photo later remarked.
WFP/Guilio d'Adamo
With a used tin of fortified vegetable oil provided by USAID, a boy in Mingkaman, South Sudan built a WFP truck, complete with wheels. He is one of 85,000 internally displaced people in the settlement who rely on food assistance from WFP. “Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention,” as the photographer who captured this photo later remarked.
A boy in Mingkaman, South Sudan holds a WFP truck he made out of materials he salvaged from U.S. food assistance; Creativity is not limited to children. In a refugee camp in Ethiopia, one Somali family created a unique doorway out of empty tin cans of vegetable oil.

When disaster strikes, hunger is often the first emergency—and children are the most vulnerable.

“Children are the most affected,” Rose Ogola, a former WFP staffer, said of her experience traveling across South Sudan during last year’s famine declaration.

In addition to being the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan has one of the world’s youngest populations. “Close to half—about 45% of the people—are below the age of 14,” she said. 

A boy wears homemade glasses he made during a distribution of high-energy biscuits in Chad.
WFP/Tiziana Zoccheddu
A boy wears homemade glasses he made during a distribution of high-energy biscuits in Chad.

Yet even in the bleakest circumstances, children can still manage to find happiness and play together.

“No matter where I go, I’ll see kids laughing and joking and when they see me with  my camera, they want me to take their picture,” WFP staffer Dina El-Kassaby said of the children she’s met on her travels to Syrian refugee camps across the Middle East. “So these kinds of things make me remember that kids will be kids.”

WFP/Sylvain Cherkaoui
Surrounded by his friends, a child in Cameroon turns the tables on a WFP photographer with his own homemade camera made of clay.

The kids are always surprising,” Alex Murdoch says of the children she met in camps near Mosul, Iraq who had been displaced by ISIS. “Because what you realize is that actually as long as they’ve had something to eat and they’re fairly amused, a lot of the kids seem pretty happy wherever they are.”

For millions of the world’s most vulnerable children, food assistance from WFP is keeping them healthy and well-nourished.

This lifesaving nutrition is also fueling hopes for a better future and enabling children to create, dream, imagine and play.

A 7-year-old boy in South Sudan named Peter Mabor holds a toy plane he made out of mud, inspired by the many WFP planes he has watched delivering lifesaving food to his community via airdrop; In Ouaddaï, Chad, an empty box of food from the U.S. has been transformed into a WFP delivery truck.

Watch Peter fly his toy plane as WFP executes an airdrop in Unity State, South Sudan:

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