This time last year, we'd just returned from our first ever playscheme in Loco slum, Uganda. We began working with this community in January 2016 and last years' playscheme was a way for us to introduce ourselves to the local community. We organised a week of activities with the COTE Africa team for local children, and we returned in May 2017 to do the same again.
Our staff and volunteers have just returned from this years' playscheme and were blown away by the transformation from last year. Sarah Collinson who ran the playscheme with the help of three The Body Shop at Home volunteers, said:
"This years playscheme showed us how much progress is happening week by week in Loco. The work of our Child Protection Teams, the new Early Childhood Development Centre offering education to the most vulnerable young children, and the work of all the COTE Africa staff has made such a huge difference compared to just a year ago. This was particularly clear in how quickly the children adapted to games and lessons; treated each other with kindness; and showed vital awareness about keeping safe and clean. This is a testament to all the training and support that is going on behind the scenes for the past year".
In January 2016, the people in Loco said they had no hope. Unemployment and income poverty had left households vulnerable and their children were prone to exploitation, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse. The Chairman of our Child Protection Team (CPT) in Loco, said “People here have had many organisations come and start things and then go, promise things and then disappoint, they didn’t believe things could change”.
But ten local people were trained up to work in their area as part of the CPT, to educate people about child protection and support them to create a protective environment. A year on we have the full participation of local people, not only the CPT volunteers but also parents getting involved with education, mothers creating new businesses to pay for their children to go to school and local services engaging with the Loco community to create a better environment for children. We also built a brand new Early Childhood Development Centre (ECD) to offer early years education for some of the most vulnerable children in the community.
The Chairman of the CPT now describes how “People see workshops, they see a team that deals with their problems, they see a drop in domestic violence and crime, they see their children on a playscheme and a new Early Childhood Development Centre being built, and it gives them hope. These things have never happened in Loco. Hope is knowing things can change”.
The transformation in the community was obvious at this year's playscheme. For example, the children were much better behaved than last year, where we saw a lot of competition for toys and activities between the children. But this year, the older children were looking out for the younger children on the playscheme, ensuring they were safe and able to take part in the activities fairly.
Last year, serious health problems emerged in the community during the playscheme, and our team adapted the activities to include a full day’s training on health and hygiene with songs about hand washing and puppet shows on keeping clean and safe from illness. This year, it was clear that health and hygiene are now fully engrained with the children who understand why this is so important. The children are now quick to wash their hands before eating their daily porridge; running to the queue at the tap to wash meticulously with soap whilst singing "this is the way we wash our hands" song.
Other aspects of sanitation had also vastly improved this year. All the children understood the importance of using the bathroom facilities and made sure they washed their hands after going to the toilet. This is something that ECD Centre staff take very seriously, checking the children as they leave the toilet and sending them back to wash their hands if they aren't wet!
Sarah said: "The COTE Africa Team are running another playscheme in December, and I know they are going to see more signs of transformation with the children. Things change so quickly when the community work together and as our other work, like the education loans get more and more established, everyone is looking forward to see the difference made in Loco".
Read more about our work in Uganda
Read more about this years' playscheme