A small party of officers and men from the army and air force arrived at Quai Branly Museum near the Eiffel Tower on Thursday and helped staff of the UN refugee agency and the museum to load 35 boxloads of toys onto two trucks for transportation to a military airport in Orleans.
The toys, including dolls, model cars, jigsaw puzzles, teddy bears and even a little bicycle, were contributed by French children under a programme run by UNHCR and the museum, which only opened a year ago. Many of the children were at the museum yesterday to send off the toys.
The precious cargo will be flown to the Chad capital, N'Djamena, aboard an air force transport plane on Monday. The toys will then be handed over to UNHCR staff for distribution in refugee camps to children from Sudan's Darfur region and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The children seemed happy to give up their toys and some arrived at the Quai Branly Museum on Thursday clutching more items to hand over at the last minute. "We have others, but the refugee kids don't have anything and a toy - even if it's not much - may please them," said one youngster.
When the museum opened on June 23 last year, senior managers of the collection of indigenous art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas decided to organize a collection of toys which could be distributed to refugees. They approached UNHCR and the refugee agency agreed to arrange the transportation and distribution of the toys.
To this end, the partners set up a series of workshops called "The Other Toy" - French children would bring in one of their own toys in good condition and would then make another toy from recyclable materials after seeking inspiration from the museum exhibits.
Some 1,800 children took part in the workshops, where they were taught how to create playthings out of basic items such as empty soda bottles, string, pieces of wood and cardboard. This helped give them insight into the lives of refugee children, who cannot afford expensive toys or computer games and must create their own toys out of the scraps they find around them.
African refugees were chosen to receive the toys because of the museum's collection of exhibits created by their ancestors. Children attending the workships were told where the toys were going to be sent and given lectures on the tough conditions that the refugees in eastern and southern Chad have to live under.
Chad hosts some 235,000 refugee from Darfur in 12 camps run by UNHCR in the east of the country. A further 46,000 refugees from Central African Republic are in the south, while there are an estimated 150,000 internally displaced Chadians in the east and south-east.
The French military has a permanent presence in Chad and has helped several times in the past in the transport of emergency assistance and humanitarian help to refugees.
By Marie-Ange Lescure
in Paris, France