A motley crew of 700 British teddy bears have brought a touch of Christmas joy to refugee children in northern Uganda, where thousands of children continue to cross the border from war-torn South Sudan.
World Vision, the international children's charity that organised the donations of the teddy bears, says that many of the children are alone, sick or separated from their parents and have no possessions – not even toys.
The teddy bears, who were mostly donated by UK churches, first came together in a flash-mob outside St Paul's Cathedral in July when World Vision UK organised a sit-down stunt on the steps of the cathedral to highlight the plight of children fleeing conflict in South Sudan.
World Vision UK's star teddy bear Precious today arrived in Imvepi refugee settlement with all 700 teddy bears in tow, having made the 6,000-mile journey from Milton Keynes in south-east England to Arua in northern Uganda.
Children will now play with the teddies at World Vision's 31 child friendly spaces in the settlements. The spaces provide young people with a safe place to play, recover steadily from distress, gain a basic education, engage in peace-building activities and learn about their rights and protection. They also allow children to return to healthy routines and begin to feel normal again.
World Vision's response director for northern Uganda, Paul Sitnam, said: 'Children at our centres were so happy and excited to welcome Precious and her furry friends. These children have already gone through so much – it's heart-warming for them to know they are not forgotten, especially during the festive period. We're very grateful to people in the UK who donated these bears. Thanks to them, Christmas has come a little early for children here!'
The initiative was carried out by World Vision UK in partnership with the leading African airline, Kenya Airways. World Vision said that the collaboration was born out of a mutual commitment to supporting vulnerable communities in the developing world.
Katrina Hanson, the area manager for Europe and the US at Kenya Airways Cargo, said: 'We hope Precious and the bears enjoyed their flight with us. Kenya Airways was delighted to help take the teddies to refugee children in Uganda. Everyone remembers having a teddy bear as a child, so to love and hold a bear will delight children who could do with some comfort at a challenging time.'
Conflict and a famine in South Sudan have forced hundreds of thousands of families to flee their homes. Funds raised for World Vision will make a real difference to children from the world's youngest country. Click here to find out more.