FEATURE: How a bouncy castle transformed a little girl’s world

Patience is now first in line to show her work to the teacher
Patience is now first in line to show her work to the teacher

This month, Sheena Campbell will be visiting the Soweto slum in Uganda. Here she reveals how a bouncy castle helped transform one little girl’s world.

Play is an integral part of childhood and so important to child development it has been recognised by the UN as a right of every child.

Patience Atiang

Patience Atiang

At the Child Friendly Space run by Children in the Edge in Uganda, play is a huge part of the children’s daily life and they enjoy the brightly coloured playground built outside, all year round.

Once a year, all the children also take part in a week long playscheme, full of fun, games, crafts and creativity.

This is the activity week that I’m going to volunteer on and I am told often during this week positive changes are triggered in the children which last way beyond that week.

The girl in the picture is six-year-old Patience. I’m hoping to meet her when I go out, although she has now graduated into school.

I am really excited to see what kind of ‘catalyst moments’ occur when I go and help with this year’s play scheme and I would love Observer readers to be a part of that

Sheena Campbell

When she first came to the Child Friendly Space at the age of four, she had been really struggling to communicate to her friends and participate in lessons.

Teachers described how, for two years, she just couldn’t respond to the environment around her.

Despite every effort, Patience was making very slow progress.

During last year’s playscheme the children had the chance to play on a bouncy castle.

Observer readers are invited to club together to hire a bouncy castle

Observer readers are invited to club together to hire a bouncy castle

They had never seen anything like it before, and the impact on Patience was tremendous.

As soon as she saw other children playing on it she was filled with excitement and started to interact with those around her.

She loved ‘the bouncing castle’ as she called it, and loved to see her friends enjoying it as well.

Even more remarkable is that this experience was something of a ‘catalyst moment’ for her.

Having fun on the bouncy castle

Having fun on the bouncy castle

Organisers explained to me how the excitement and delight she felt somehow triggered a change within her.

Over the following hours, days and weeks, the results of the two years of encouragement and nurturing she had received from teachers on the project seemed to accelerate, just from this one moment.

Since then she has not only been able to interact and have fun with her friends, but her learning and interaction in class has increased tenfold.

“Before she would be standing aloof and loitering at the back during classes, she would be reluctant to try out any of the work the teachers set,” explains Esther from the charity.

“Now she is in the front row, she is always beside the teacher asking questions and she is the first up to show the teacher her work.”

Six months after the playscheme, Patience graduated alongside 30 other students and is now going to mainstream school.

It was a proud moment for her, the staff and her family.

I am really excited to see what kind of ‘catalyst moments’ occur when I go and help with this year’s play scheme and I would love Observer readers to be a part of that.

It costs around £100 to hire a bouncy castle in Uganda for the children at the Child Friendly Space, please donate anything you can towards this at my Just Giving page www.justgiving.com/Sheena-Campbell2 and watch this space to read about the impact it makes on my return.

I am funding the trip myself so all donations go directly to the charity.

Charity’s vital role

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 and give them a chance at a better life.

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.

Nutritious meals improve health and community child protection committees provide support on parenting, family planning and preventing abuse.

Vulnerable households are able to meet their own needs through comprehensive agricultural training.

The centre allows 200 children to access child-centred activities each day. It gives 60 displaced youths vocational training.

The child protection committee raises awareness of abduction and allows the community to act quickly if perpetrators are spotted.

Before the charity started its work in Soweto the only industry was illegal breweries and child abduction and abuse were rife but this project is helping to change all that.

It has been so successful that the initiative is set to be rolled out to other vulnerable areas.

More information is available online at www.childrenontheedge.org

Blown away by generosity

Whenever I run appeals in the Observer I am always blown away by the generosity of our readers.

Whether it is to help children who need medical care or asking for food donations, I am always staggered by the response.

What has surprised me with this appeal, however, is how even a small donation can make a huge difference to those living in the Soweto slum.

My wish list so far (don’t worry there is more to come):

1. T-shirts for the child protection team – just £3 will buy a T-shirt for members of the child protection team.

These are local people raising awareness of child abuse and sacrifice and helping the community to overcome it.

2. A bouncy castle – £100 will hire a bouncy castle for the last day of the playscheme

Everyone loved a bouncy castle as a child but you only have to read Patience’s story to see just what it can mean to these children.