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Storytelling for Displaced Children

Children of refugees in Uganda attending storytelling session
Children in a refugee settlement in Northern Uganda attending a Storytelling session organized by CPI's partner HAF-Uganda.

Journey of Hope: CPI's Storytelling Program

What began as a simple idea born out of compassion and a shared belief in the healing power of play for children in an overcrowded refugee camp has blossomed into a global initiative, touching the lives of thousands of children worldwide.

 Read about CPI’s “Origin” story here.

The Life in an a Refugee Settlement
"Children don't know what to do and are completely traumatized. Losing their friends and homes, or being trapped inside, leads to severe mental states with constant insecurity and other issues," says Sarwar Mushtaq.

CPI’s Journey with Displaced Children

CPI’s storytelling program helps displaced children connect with their roots, offering numerous benefits for their education and emotional development, which are often interrupted due to displacement.

The inception of CPI’s storytelling program is rooted in the experiences at Jalozai Refugee Camp. As detailed in the blog “The Birth of CPI’s Storytelling Program” co-founders Steven and Sarwar’s collaboration began when they realized the profound impact that play and storytelling could have on displaced children. Their efforts to use storytelling as a healing tool laid the foundation for CPI, highlighting the importance of preserving cultural heritage and providing emotional support through narrative.

"Displaced from their homes and stripped of their friends and security, they live in constant fear and trauma. Witnessing violence, enduring drone attacks, and having their worlds turned upside down leaves deep scars, leading to anger, frustration, and pervasive insecurity. Children don't understand why this is happening to them."
Sarwar Mushtaq
Sarwar Mushtaq
Co-founder CPI and Team Leader

Stories Help Children Connect With Their Roots

Displaced children face unique and challenging circumstances that often sever their connections to their cultural and familial roots. Forced to leave their homes due to conflict, natural disasters, or economic hardship, these children may lose touch with their heritage, traditions, and the comforting familiarity of their native environments. In such situations, stories can play a crucial role in helping them reconnect with their roots.

For children uprooted from their homes, reconnecting with their cultural heritage through stories provides a sense of stability and identity.

CPI’s program ensures that these traditions and stories are preserved and cherished, even in the face of adversity

Children in Lusaka, Zambia. listening attentively to storyteller
"Children don't know what to do and are completely traumatized. Losing their friends and homes, or being trapped inside, leads to severe mental states with constant insecurity and other issues," says Sarwar Mushtaq.

Emotional and Educational Development​

Displacement can severely disrupt children’s education and emotional growth.

CPI’s storytelling program addresses these gaps by providing an engaging and educational activity that promotes literacy and critical thinking.

Listening to and sharing stories helps children develop language skills, enhance their imagination, and learn valuable life lessons.

Using a Safe Space to Create Bonds​

Children need connection not only to their past but also to peers of the same background or value system.

Storytelling in a safe and intimate setting fosters a sense of community among displaced children.

The sessions allow them to bond over shared experiences and cultural tales, reducing feelings of isolation and building a supportive network.

Displaced Children wearing sports uniforms in refugee camp

Promoting Comfort and Engagement​

The act of sharing and listening to stories is as important as the stories themselves.

It creates a comforting routine that provides emotional solace and a break from the harsh realities of refugee life.

Engaging in storytelling encourages children to express themselves, share their fears and hopes, and listen to others with empathy.

Displaced girl talking about death
“I was so struck by what Inayat said about children losing their childhood because of not having play."

Bringing Art and Storytelling to the Refugee Camp

“I was so struck by what Inayat said about children losing their childhood because of not having play,” Steven recalled. “I asked him if the children in Jalozai knew about the Olympics, and suddenly the idea was hatched:

Create a small-scale children’s “Olympics” in Jalozai. The idea was simple, but carrying it out was a major project. 

displaced girl drawing during storytelling session

CPI’s first event was held in the now-closed Jalozai Refugee Camp in Pakistan, a tent community of over 150,000 people near the Khyber Pass. 

CPI created a mini-Olympics to support children uprooted by regional violence, aiming to reintroduce play, creative activity, and the chance for positive communication.

The agenda for the week included storytelling, painting, traditional song and dance, sports, and fun games. This initiative was designed to help these children regain a sense of normalcy and joy through play and creative expression.

Displacement and Trauma

The Reality of Refugee Children

Displaced children are too young to understand what is happening to them.
Play Brings Healing In Times of Trauma

A bit of context:

The Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan has been a refuge for Afghan refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) for over two decades.

Located 40 kilometers east of Peshawar, the camp became a temporary home for tens of thousands of Afghans in late 2000.

Sarwar notes that many refugees and displaced people frequently move between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with all significant decisions being made by adults.


Imagine Being a Displaced Child

“Imagine a child going to sleep in their own bed, only to wake up the next day in a tent, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and environments. This was the harsh reality for many children in the camp, which swelled to accommodate around half a million people—70% of whom were children,” Sarwar says.

The Importance of Play

Play brings healing to children suffering from trauma. Trauma takes many forms – pandemics, war, poverty, HIV orphanhood, displacement – and it affects children the most. CPI helps create a place of safety and normalcy through play, allowing respite, resiliency, and joy.
Displaced girls dancing during CPI storytelling event

Song and Dance

CPI is a champion of play-based learning, and a significant part of this approach is the incorporation of song and dance. These traditional cultural expressions, sometimes even hallowed by religion, are embodied in joyful performances. Singing and dancing invite children to improvise, making even the hardiest tradition an opportunity for fun and self-expression.
Boys in refugee camp embracing during play and storytelling event

Play Brings Healing in Times of Trauma

Play is a crucial tool for helping children heal from trauma. It provides a safe and supportive environment where children can express their emotions, process their experiences, and regain a sense of normalcy and control. Through play, children can explore their feelings and fears in a non-threatening way, allowing them to work through complex emotions and develop coping mechanisms.
displaced children drawing in refugee camp during CPI storytelling event

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