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Team reflection IDSC 2024 special: Belonging

Updates • Apr 2024

On 12th April, we recognise International Day for Street Children; a special day acknowledging the strength and resilience of millions of street children around the world. An important day not just in the Toybox calendar, but the opportunity for all of us to raise awareness of the challenges of those around the world who are living, working and depending on the streets for survival.

In collaboration with the Consortium for Street Children, this year the theme of this important day focuses on 'belonging'. Asking, what does belonging mean to children and young people in street situations themselves and how can duty bearers help them achieve and strengthen their sense of belonging within their communities.

Roz Elliott, Toybox’s Programme Manager for Latin America, shares a reflection on Toybox’s work with children and young people in street situations around the world on the theme of belonging.

The wall of the learning centre in Guatemala City is decorated with brightly coloured handprints. Each contains a name. When children and young people start coming along to project activities, Toybox’s local partner CONACMI invites them to make their mark on the wall. In a society where children in street situations frequently experience exclusion, this simple gesture allows children to claim, “I belong here”.

A sense of belonging is fundamental to us all. Belonging is about acceptance, being part of a group, and knowing that we matter. We may think of belonging as linked to physical spaces such as our home, school, or community, but for children and young people on the streets, their home is often transient - an abandoned house they risk eviction from, a market stall where authorities routinely chase them away, a street where the police scatter their belongings and move them on. Their sense of belonging is constantly eroded by others in a society who decide that they do not belong there.

Right to Identity

One of the issues raised by the children across Toybox-supported projects is the right to identity and the right to belong as a citizen. Children that are not registered are not counted in official statistics and not included in policy decisions. For many children in street situations, a lack of official documentation creates barriers to accessing essential social services such as education and healthcare. Children may go to school but without a birth certificate or legal ID document, their grades are not recorded, meaning they cannot pass the year or progress. This leads to high levels of school dropout and limits children’s future opportunities irreparably.

Accessing birth registration and ID documents can be complex. In El Salvador, our local partner Viva has been working with some children and their families for over two years to get their births registered. Some cases are only able to be resolved through the family court with DNA testing. Often a key stage in accessing late birth registration is the formal recognition by the parents (especially the father) of the child – a written declaration which indicates, “You belong to me.” When I met 28-year-old Yoseline in Bolivia last year (pictured below), it was this that moved her to tears - her father officially recognising her as his daughter.

Right to Be Heard

Experiences of exclusion can lead to feelings of depression, hopelessness, and anxiety as well as loneliness. Many Toybox-supported projects with children in street situations include a strong component of psychosocial support, through group or individual counselling and activities to help children improve their emotional stability.

In Bolivia, our local partner, Alalay, is supporting children and young people to become child leaders. Through learning about their rights by participating in the “I Count Too” network, children are equipped to speak up for themselves and their peers. Participating in the network provides a safe space for sharing with others and builds children’s self-confidence and social skills. Partner staff work as a bridge in facilitating positive advocacy opportunities for children, assuring they have the knowledge and skills to talk about the issues concerning them, and also working to open doors to meetings with official and duty bearers. This year, members of the "I Count Too" network have participated alongside government officials and civil society organisations in creating the Government Plan for Children and Adolescents in La Paz.

Right to Protection

Being part of a group or network helps foster a sense of belonging. It is easy to assume children in street situations are entirely alone, but the reality is that their survival often depends on the complex social networks they create. Toybox’s partner staff share many examples of this; from cafes that offer food, or businesses that allow children into their premises to sell their wares, to market stall holders who may act an informal bank, or individuals who provide shelter for the night or accompany children to access services. With careful work to build trust, Toybox local partner staff soon become integrated into this support network and a key part of it. In some cases, this includes being the first point of call when a child has a problem, such as needing health care or during a run in with social services. One staff member spoke of receiving a call at 3am and heading out to hospital to be with one of children.

These relationships of trust are critical to the longer-term impact that Toybox and our partners seek to make in children’s lives. Through visits to our partners and projects overseas, I’ve seen firsthand how partner staff are daily coming alongside children in street situations with words and actions to show them that they matter and that they belong, and through this, seeking to build their self-confidence and self-determination to imagine a different future for themselves.

To hear from the children and young people Toybox supports on what belonging means to them, take a look at this blog post.

Toybox partners around the world will be marking International Day for Street Children in a variety of different ways – from radio programmes to candlelight vigils. Do keep an eye on Toybox’s social media @ToyboxCharity for further news and updates.

Roz Elliott, Programme Manager for Latin America, Toybox.

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