When Children on the Edge was first asked to become involved in the Soweto slum in Uganda, the conditions were ‘appalling’.
Home to around 4,000 people crammed within just ten acres – roughly the size of five-and-a-half football pitches – the poverty was described as chronic, with much of the population displaced from past conflict in Northern Uganda.
The main industry at the time was illegal and unlicensed alcohol production – a dangerous and unprofitable process, producing black toxic sludge that ran through the slums where children wandered.
Child abuse, malnutrition and sacrifice were all common and exposure to drunken men and prostitution left children at greater risk of HIV.
“Before the Child Friendly Space was set up, children in Soweto had little hope, with no sustainable livelihoods for their families, little nutrition, no schools and no safe place to simply enjoy being children,” said Esther Smitherman from the charity.
Together with local partners the Adolescent Development Support Network – ADSN – Children on the Edge implemented three stages of change in a bid to bring new hope to these vulnerable youngsters.
Stage one was the building of a community child protection committee.
“Once trained, this group began working with local people and training them about child safety, rights, parenting, health and hygiene,” said Esther.
“This work began to create a safer, cleaner environment for children.”
Stage two was the establishment of a Child and Community Centre.
With a donated building, the centre was created to provide early-years education and nutrition for the most vulnerable children in Soweto.
“They are now kept safe through the day and have a chance to play, learn and enjoy being children,” said Esther.
“The building has been transformed from a drab and dusty building to a colourful, fun hive of activity, surrounded by a green grassed area full of play equipment.”
The final stage in the programme was agricultural development and sustainability.
Growing produce on land surrounding the centre has allowed it to source fresh, nutritious vegetables, reducing its ongoing costs.
“Nutrition experts from the local hospital give regular advice about the best varieties of food to grow for healthy diets,” said Esther.
“As this agricultural training provides the most vulnerable households with new skills, many women are now selling vegetables instead of earning money brewing alcohol.
“This, together with an investment of small business start-up loans, has meant that, bit by bit, the breweries have begun to close down.”
While the Child Friendly Space runs 365 days a year, the charity also runs a one-week play scheme for youngsters.
Aside from all the colour and fun, the week aims to help the children grow in confidence, explore their curriculum in new and creative ways and learn new methods of sharing about their lives.
This is the project I will be visiting in June.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I’ll be writing a series of pieces about the current work of Children on the Edge in Uganda, the impact it has, and how our readers can get involved.
We will be looking to provide specific items needed in Soweto – be it potters’ wheels for women trying to gain a sustainable income or T-shorts for the child protection committee.
More details about these appeals will be published in the weeks to come, but a JustGiving page can be found at: www.justgiving.com/Sheena-Campbell2.
I am funding the trip myself so all donations will go straight to Children on the Edge and its work improving the lives of people in Soweto.
Ben Wilkes will be leading our visit in June.
“The project in Soweto has seen a community spurred into action, creating a huge transformation for their children, just in a three-year period,” he said.
“We’re looking to roll that out now into two larger neighbouring communities, it’s an ambitious project, and it would be wonderful to do this with the backing of our own community here in West Sussex.”