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Supporting hopes and dreams: My experience with Toybox

Updates • May 2024

Joanna Dove (pictured above left) joined Toybox in January 2024 for a six-month work placement in the International Programmes Team as part of her International Development course at The University of East Anglia. Here, she shares reflections and observations from her time at Toybox, including a trip to Bolivia to visit Toybox-supported projects focusing on birth registration.

Children in street situations

'Children in street situations' – a term that refers to children that depend on the streets for their survival, whether this is through working on the streets, living on the streets, having support networks on the streets, or a combination of the three. Every story is different and every context is complex, but the street plays a vital role in the lives and identities of these children. 100 million is the commonly quoted figure for the number of street children worldwide, but this outdated statistic, first estimated in 1989, certainly does not reflect the true number, which according to the UN could be up to 150 million. This is more difficult to measure due to the inherently concealed and mobile character of the population.

Who are Toybox?

As a part of my International Development Placement Year, I have had the opportunity to work with Toybox for six months. Toybox is a UK-based charity that works in partnership with local NGOs in Latin America, Africa and Asia with the vision of seeing a just and fair world with no street children. I have been able to work alongside a team of inspired staff with extensive experience and expertise in the development sector. This has not only given me an insight into development work but also highly enhanced my practical knowledge on the sector.

Identity document inaccessibility

One of the key areas of focus for Toybox and its partners is improving children and young people in street situation’s access to their official identity documents, including their ID cards and birth certificates. Imagine a life where you are considered nameless. Where you have no access to an education, health care or legal services. Where you are judged and disregarded because of your lack of documentation. The truth is that this does not have to be imagined by millions of unregistered children across the world, this is their reality, their story. Without an identity document their lives and opportunities are greatly limited, and accessing these documents is often more complex than may be perceived. However, due to the support of Toybox and the hard work of their local partners, 2,335 children, youth and adults were able to gain their birth certificate or legal identity documents in the past year alone. The positive effects of this can be endless.

Accessing a dream in Bolivia

In April 2024, I joined some of the Toybox team on a trip to Bolivia, to visit their local partner there and see the projects in real time, rather than through a report. Seeing the impact and the emotion of some of the family’s that received their ID cards, within these projects, echoed the importance of this work. It is easy to get lost in numbers, but you cannot miss the impact when you meet the person, see their face and hear their story. I was able to meet a number of children who have started school for the first time because of this support to access their ID cards. Some of the children told us how they now dream of becoming teachers when they grow up. That’s what an ID card gives them access to, not only an education, health care or an identity, but it also gives access to a dream. To hope and strive for a better future.

Unfortunately, the process of obtaining these documents is often not that simple or fast. The key to unlocking access to an ID card is the possession of a birth certificate - something we do not often think about as a barrier here in the UK. However, this can be a complex process only made more challenging by the hardships of life on the street. When acquiring a replacement or retrospective birth certificate in Bolivia, you are required to present a range of different documents to confirm both your identity and that of your parents. This is often combined with a fee for late registration. These are real barriers for children and young people in street situations, who may be estranged from their families or may have been connected to the streets through generations. These barriers are then heightened due to the stigma that surrounds street children in many public spheres.

Toybox's inspirational impact

The work of Toybox and their local partners gives vulnerable populations in street situations support to access their birth certificates and identity documents and in turn, be given a legal identity. Some of the more complex cases can take months to complete due to the nature of their situations and the process. I got to see firsthand the complex nature of these processes and the tireless work of the local staff who really are the embodiment of hope and safety for many of the children and families they support. The visible joy of the children when they finally received their documents will be a memory I will never forget.

My six months at Toybox have undoubtedly been an invaluable and inspiring experience and I am grateful for the opportunity to graduate with the practical knowledge, memories, mentorship, and connections I have gained here.

You can find out more about Toybox's work in Bolivia here.

To see the difference birth registration is making to children's lives, take a look at our stories of transformational change.

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