A safe place to play
Sheena Campbell pays a visit to a slum in Uganda to find out
how a Sussex based charity is helping transform a community.
Hope, life, colour, fun – this is what Children on the Edge brings to children around the world and what I saw in action during my time in Uganda.
I spent the week at a child-friendly space on the outskirts of the Soweto slum, Jinja.
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,” says 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.
Lead social worker Barbara explains why the space was created and outlines the major issues facing the charity when work began in the slum.
“The main problem was alcohol and I think that was because of the distilling which was too much in the community,” she says.
“There was a high rate of orphans and vulnerable children.
“When interacting with some community members almost all of them said it was because of the aids and HIV.
“Parents were dying at an almost weekly rate, leaving children alone or living with their grandparents, who were often sick as well.
“There were lots of school drop outs.
“There was kidnapping, child sacrifice, child abuse and exploitation was at a high rate.”
While there is still work to be done, I saw first hand the difference the charity’s work, and your support, is making.
On the first day of my trip we visited the Soweto slum.
We saw the pit of sludge created by one of the illegal breweries and heard loud music booming from one of the movie houses.
These movie houses, screened from view by cloth and fences were hot spots for drinking and child abuse.
However, my feeling during our time there wasn’t one of depression but of hope.
Pity is of no use to anyone, asset-driven work which provides people with the tools they need to improve their own situations does.
Yes we visited an illegal brewery, but now there are five of these in the slum whereas before there were 13.
Why? Because other viable forms of employment have been created.
Yes, there are still the movie halls, but the child protection team has been working with the community to educate them on the dangers of child abuse and abduction and it is making an impact.
As we walk around we meet several of the women who have taken up the small business loans now available to the community.
One had started her own food stall and was preparing piles of small nutritious fish and drying vegetables when we visited.
Another had started bulk buying coal and selling buckets to her neighbours.
On our second visit we meet the women who pooled their resources to buy clay which they refined with their hands and gave to the potter to make into pots to sell.
Originally there were four women, now there are 38.
The original founders sold the idea to other women and came together to create a collective, making not just pottery but crafts.
With the money raised by Sussex Newspaper readers and corporate sponsors Body Shop at home, we were able to present the group with two new potters wheels, allowing them to make their own pots and coal braziers.
We also had the chance to meet Children on the Edge’s local partner Adolescent Development Support Network (ADSN).
Initially started to support street children, it has now expanded to combat the causes behind the problem.
As well as the child friendly space and child protection team, it provides vocational training for teenagers and young people in areas including metalwork, tailoring, hairdressing and catering.
I meet Agnes, 18, who has been attending the tailoring course for six months.
“I want to buy my own machine so I can make clothes to sell,” she tells me.
Another successful, and relatively new branch, of the work here is the farm.
Edwin from ADSN shows us the project, started in support of the child friendly space.
Every six months, it takes on 35 people to train them in agriculture, supported by Sustain for Life.
An amazing 60 per cent of the produce goes to the centre in a bid to help provide children with nutritious meals.
While 20 per cent is given to the women working there to help them feed their families.
The last 20 per cent is sold in a bid to keep the project sustainable long-term.
Neither ADSN nor Children on the Edge were experts on farming, so when the project started they teamed up with the local prison which had won agricultural awards for two years.
ADSN members also met with doctors who advised them on the illnesses currently prevalent in the community and what to plant to best help overcome them.
“We’ve been particularly interested in the agricultural training aspect of the programme and the establishment of a community farm,” says Jo Kroes Randell, head of development for Sustain for Life.
“As a result, children at the centre are now receiving two nutritious meals per day and many women have started producing food for their families and improving their livelihoods.”
While most of the crops are grown at the farm itself, residents are also being taught how to create their own sack gardens, meaning produce can be grown in a confined space.
“The sack garden came in because in the communities we are working in you are always limited in terms of land,” said Edwin.
“They want to have a balanced diet but have nowhere to plant.
“So we came up with the idea of the sack garden so families can supplement their diet.”
The main reason for my trip, however, was to take part in the annual play scheme at the child-friendly space.
My role, and the role of each of our group of seven, was 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 were there to help them have fun.
Although I have been writing for years, there are no words to accurately describe the elation and exhaustion of those manic five 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 when we visited the areas where the next child-friendly spaces are going to be built.
In Kamasa illegal brewing is done on an industrial scale.
Edwin tells us a child a month was dying after falling into the vats of boiling water because their mothers had nowhere to leave them when they went to work.
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 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 sold her as a sex worker and she was subjected to a ritual where her nose and genitals were cut off.
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.
For more information about Children on the Edge, visit www.childrenontheedge.org
How to donate:
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.
I funded the cost of the trip myself so all donations go directly to support Children on the Edge’s work in
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.
Pictures: courtesy of Children on the Edge
August 3, 2015 Culture and Events