All children have the right to play.
It is not just fun but aids learning, development and social skills.
However, for many children around the world play is not an option.
They become the heads of households caring for their younger siblings or go out to work.
Children on the Edge aims to give children in often forgotten communities the vital chance to learn and play in a safe environment.
The main reason for my current trip to Uganda is to take part in the annual play scheme at the child-friendly space on the outskirts of the Soweto slum.
Children on the Edge has established projects like this around the world and although play is at the heart of them all, each one is unique.
“You should never have a carbon copy child friendly space, it should never be one size fits all,” said Ben Wilkes from the charity.
In Soweto, the space provides two meals a day for children who often go without.
It also provides early years development to around 150 children aged from three to six each morning to give them a greater chance of getting into primary school.
In the afternoon it provides a safe place for all the children of the slum to play.
My role, and the role of each of our group of seven, is to help with the morning lessons then come up with activities and games which build on what the children have learned.
The hope is the teachers will then use some of these resources to build the children’s development even further than they already have.
But, most importantly, we are here to help them have fun.
Although I have been writing for years, there are no words to accurately describe the elation and exhaustion of the past few days.
Seeing a child walk tall with the crown they made on their head is something I will never forget.
Gaining the trust of a child who proudly shows you their exercise book with their letters in is wonderful for someone who values words as I do.
Going almost hoarse because I have sat on the ground singing clapping songs for an hour-and-a-half is completely worth it because three children who were too timid to play with the others stayed with me the whole time.
There is still work to be done here.
The centre cannot offer every child in Soweto early years education and social workers have to pick the most vulnerable to be part of the new annual intake of 45.
But in just three years this project has already come so far.
Just how far that is was demonstrated to me today when we visited one of the areas where the next child-friendly space is going to be built.
Wandago straddles a dual carriageway leaving children even more vulnerable to abduction.
Here, lead social worker Prossi explains education is almost non-existent.
Bigger than Soweto, it has even more grandparent and child-headed households.
In part, this is because of alcohol abuse.
So many people were being knocked down and killed when crossing between the communities that a by-law has been passed forbidding people from crossing when drunk.
A lack of education also means many of the youngsters here end up on the streets or in the sex trade.
Prossi tells us the story of a young woman who was offered a job as a maid.
However, the woman hiring her actually sold her as a sex worker and she was subjected to a ritual where her nose and genitals were cut off as part of a sacrifice.
Work is being done here already.
Two of the girls training at the ADSN cafe where we have lunch are from Wandago.
A local child protection committee of ten elected members of the community has also been set up.
They are already working to combat child abuse, domestic violence and the practice of hiding disabled children away.
However, funding is needed to allow them to reach the next step.
As one of the leaders says ‘the sky is the limit’ if they have support.
If you would like to support the work of Children on the Edge and its incredible local partner ADSN in offering even more children the right to play now is the time to do it.
Sheena has funded the costs of the trip herself so all donations go directly to support Children on the Edge’s work in Uganda.
Visit my JustGiving page at: www.justgiving.com/Sheena-Campbell2.
Alternatively, you can donate £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 by texting COTE85 followed by the amount to 70070.
Even the smallest donation can make a huge difference to this charity.
About Children on the Edge
Children on the Edge works with vulnerable children around the globe – those often forgotten about by society.
In the Soweto slum the charity has launched a multi-stage project to keep youngsters safe.
Its Child Friendly Space provides pre-primary education for children under five years old and educational and play activities for children aged six to 14.
The centre allows 200 children to access child-centred activities each day. The child protection committee raises awareness of abduction and allows the community to act quickly if perpetrators are spotted.
More information is available at www.childrenontheedge.org.
As part of Sussex Newspapers’ support for the charity we are fundraising for specific items.
Any extra money will go straight to the charity to continue its excellent work in Soweto.
Items on our wish list include:
T-shirts for the child protection team – just £3 will buy a T-shirt for members of the child protection team;
A bouncy castle – £100 will hire a bouncy castle for the last day of the playscheme;
Potters wheels – £100 will buy a potters wheel to help more widows and grandmothers earn a living and send their children to school.
Sheena will be updating the websites live from Uganda next week.
To find out more about her trip click on the links below.
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