A Toy Story


Let’s do an experiment. Take a quick look at these pictures and write down the first three things that springs to your mind. Don’t continue reading before you’re done.


We are in south western Ethiopia in a refugee camp called Funido. This is the home of fourty thousand South Sudanese refugees who have fled from the ongoing civil war across the border. It is just another day in the camp. Water is collected, firewood is being chopped, food is being cooked and plenty of time is spent waiting. Fortunately, the kids are able to enjoy themselves more than the adults. This might come as a shock to youngsters in the west; neither Playstation nor Snapchat is needed to have fun! All it takes is a bit of creativity, and creativity definitely is fueled by the lack of toys and other amusements.

We didn’t notice all the home made toys at first, but when they caught our eye we could see them everywhere.


Mariel (8) loves playing with this old bicycle wheel.


Cinuarben (8) has made his own sledge.


Ruachkourh (14) has made his own car. When he grows up he wants a Land Cruicer.


Karon (8) also built his own car


Our interpreter was gone for a minute when we came across this chap, so we don’t really know what he is holding in his hands. We assume it is some kind of a toy. The boy’s name is Nhial.

And now for the experiment: Did the total absence of girls strike you as strange? We were looking the whole day, trying to find girls who were carrying homemade toys, but we simply couldn’t find any. If you read our next post, you’ll find out why. In the meantime, you are free to guess. There is plenty of space for comments. And if you are willing to share, it would be nice to read what caught your immediate attention when you first looked at he pictures.


33 Responses to “A Toy Story”

  1. […] by the lack of toys and other amusements. For the whole story and more photos, please look up the blog post Øystein and I have […]

  2. My first thoughts were creative, home made and fun. As far as the absence of girls..not sure if they have other serious business to attend to…Great captures of the children and their inventions!

  3. My immediate thought was that these children are very imaginitive and creative. As to the girls, maybe they are fetching water.

  4. My first glance noticed smiles even though the kids are in a refugee camp; then I noticed the object the kid in the middle held, then the thinness of the kids. The girls? I have a feeling they are helping care for babies and with cooking???

  5. Clever, fun, joy. That’s what came to mind. I’d like to think it’s bath time for the girls, so the boys are playing elsewhere, but the girls are probably doing chores.

  6. My comments- The children were all thin. There was little grass (more dirt). And they were all boys. I hope the young girls are playing elsewhere and fear that they are working.

  7. Very creative of these young boys but also nostalgic…I’ve seen old photos of American children playing with similar “toys”. Wondering if the girls are working? Also wondering if it’s a safe environment for girls to be out and about.

  8. I confess that I couldn’t see past the thin children. I felt an overwhelming sadness at first. Look at the children playing and using their handmade toys, in the West we don’t see that much anymore, imagination for the most part is gone and outdoor play time is at times forced on the kids. Thank God these children are able to play, laugh, and share their joy. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story through your photos and words.

  9. The first thing I notice is their arms and legs are so terribly thin and behind the attempt at amusement with whatever they can find, a smile here and there, I only see a kind of lethargy and deep sadness. It’s almost as though they’re filing in time waiting (for something to happen).

    Cinuarben on the sledge is the only one I see as genuinely happy (and is he the smiling child on the far right of the first image?).

    • I agree completely Vicki.
      Not the kind of joy you normally see in the faces of kids who are playing. Cinuarben is the exception. His smile really shines!

  10. Are there schools or some kind of education program…or do the children play all day? Wait? Wait for what?
    Girls….doing chores most likely. Helping. Working. Not playing with toys….

  11. Unlike Vicki, my first reaction was that almost all of the children are smiling and so open to you, a foreign photographer. My second reaction was how incredibly sad it is that they should be happy with such a lousy lot in life. Thanks for sharing these – can’t wait to hear what happened to the girls!!

  12. Lack definitely stimulates creativity and these kids certainly have much incentive to be creative. May they know better times in the days to come. They have been through so much already in their young lives.

  13. They all seem to interested in you and your camera, and so proud to show off their handiwork. It must be so difficult for them, but they still find time to play.

  14. I noticed the little boy with the Lakers shirt–since I’m from Los Angeles, that was kind of an obvious thing to note. The smiles of children always disarm me. And the lack of girls–I assume they are working alongside their mothers to make meals and general housekeeping and probably a fair amount of manual labor. I don’t expect the girls to have time to play. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll look forward to your explanation.

  15. But there is one girl in the first picture, or is it a boy wearing a skirt? 😉
    My first thought was creativity, because of that nice looking toy, then I saw all those smiles and colours.
    The girls are with their mothers, I guess, learning how to cook and keep the house clean. Kept out of sight of men 😀

    PS: I have an icycold sunset in the harbour in my latest post, just in case you want to cool down for a while 😀

  16. I noticed first the terrible thinness of those children. It is a wonder they have the energy to play at all. Yet they smile, and make toys, and find moments of fun. The resilience and creativity of children is amazing.
    When I was little, my life was certainly easier than these children’s, but we made our own fun, too, and spent endless hours playing in the dirt with sticks and pebbles. I feel sorry for children today who never have that experience.
    I didn’t notice the absence of girls, and look forward to hearing more about that.

  17. My first three thoughts were, fun-play-imagination. In many ways children of our world are missing out in the art of play. They are glued to their electronics and never use their imagination. These kids expressions seem to be filled with much more joy than any kid I ever watched play a video game.

  18. My first thoughts were boys, toy and smiles but then I thought I saw a child in the group wearing a skirt. So much for my gender stereo-typing. The photo of little Nhial is such a gorgeous heartbreaker.

  19. really revealing photos – thank you for sharing these stories in these recent posts and giving visibility to the issues of the region – important work you guys are doing

  20. Excellent images and report.

    Simplicity, friendship, happiness — these are the words that came to mind for me. It’s good to see that they can still have fun, despite the circumstances.

    My guess as to why there are no girls around is that I imagine they’re given a traditional role as mother’s helper, for better or worse.

  21. Engineers, recycling, joy… And i know where the girls are… Busy working

  22. Creative,child,and deserve better

  23. That 3rd shot is worth it all ~ boy, such pure joy and happiness. Brilliant, even amid conditions so sad that boy is brilliant…just a chance is all he needs (a tiny slice of opportunity) and making plights like this more visible may just be what it takes. Well done!

  24. It’s a great reminder of where I’ve come from being a Kenyan and proud of it, reminds me of way back in the good old days

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