Sports and mental strength
Life on the streets forces children to grow up before their time, sacrificing their childhood in order to survive. The risk of physical harm and mental distress is great, yet resilience does not come easily.
Understanding the reasons for children to live and work on the street is essential to providing interventions that enable them to lead a fulfilling life.
That’s why Retrak worked with the British Council in Uganda and Premier League on their Premier Skills project, delivering football rehabilitative programmes to the children forced into adulthood early. These ‘soccer clinics’ involve children in games that help them to overcome the stress and trauma of street life.
The programmes begin as outreach in the slums, where trained community coaches establish trust and rapport with the kids. This is crucial in encouraging the children to attend the football sessions, and eventually, other Retrak services where reintegration into a safe environment can begin.
Ritah’s* story in the programme offers hope.
As a 17-year-old mother to a disabled daughter, whose partner consequently abandoned her, Ritah could no longer make the most of her youth. She was living in her grandmother’s home, but left to care both for her daughter and ailing mother – demanding responsibilities for any teenager.
In need of a liberating hobby to feel less isolated, Ritah met one of the coaches who inspired her to join Kivvulu football club. She began participating in the female group football practices every weekend, gradually gaining confidence and making new friends.
She proudly represented Kivvulu Parish in the Retrak girls’ football team in the Street Children tournament too.
The simplicity of belonging to a community of other young people invoked a wealth of self-belief in Ritah. She then approached Retrak’s other services to enrol on a tailoring course at the Uganda Home Economics Institute.
She said: “I am no longer stigmatised because of the disability of my daughter. I share my challenges with others and that is why I was able to get support from a disability organisation through the Local Council Office to improve my daughter’s speech. She can now smile and sing me songs!”
Through the safe and inclusive community of football and the Premier Skills partnership, Ritah was able to take control of her life for the better, despite the difficulties she faced at home.
Other children are not so lucky: many on the streets have no safe home to immediately return to…they are frightened, and are much younger.
On Friday 23rd March, Sport Relief filmed Elvis, our outreach team member, who looks out for new arrivals on the streets of Kampala at night. You can watch the full video here from 2:19:00 if you have a UK TV licence.
It is the the generosity and giving of our supporters that enables outreach and reintegration to take place, and to administer activities which restore children’s mental strength.
*name changed to protect identity.
By Diana Clough