On the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (April 6th) we celebrate the inaugural Street Child Games, which took place from March 14 – 20 and reminded the world of sport’s unique power to bring people together and promote social change.
The Olympic host-city of Rio de Janeiro welcomed former street children and young people from nine countries for a week of Olympic-themed sports and unique international Congress for street children’s rights.
Teams of young people, aged 14 – 19 represented Argentina, Brazil, Burundi, Egypt, Great Britain, India, Mozambique, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Joe Hewitt, Head of Street Child United Brazil Office said: “The Street Child Games are being held in an Olympic year because we believe in the Olympics and Paralympics and their values and we give a platform to the rights of street children. We believe in the power of sport to change the way street children are perceived and treated.”
The Street Child Games, in association with Save the Children, received support from four-time Olympic Gold medallist Michael Johnson and Olympic Gold medallist Darren Campbell. Double Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft visited the Games in Rio and highlighted the important role sport can play in shifting perceptions.
Hannah Cockroft said: “It’s so amazing to be involved in the Street Child Games. There are massive parallels between how the 2012 Paralympics challenged the way people with disabilities are perceived and the way the Street Child Games challenges the way street children are perceived.
The Street Child Games were hosted in the Babilonia and Chapeu Mangueira communities in Leme. The activities were supported by an incredible team of passionate and dedicated volunteers who helped with the delivery of the Games.
At the core of the Street Child Games was the Congress delivered in partnership with Terre des Hommes, Dreikönigsaktion and StreetInvest and hosted at the iconic Copacabana Palace Hotel. It is the first time that street-connected youth have hosted their own international Congress, giving them a unique platform to share their expertise on the lives of street children everywhere, and to demand action at the highest level.
“There’s a wall that separates us from society and we lost the opportunity to lead a normal life.” said Erica, a former street girl from the Philippines, “I am here on behalf of street children around the world to voice our right to education.”
Over four days, the Congress focused on three key rights most frequently denied to children living and working on the streets: the right to protection from violence, the right to Education and the right to a legal identity.
The Congress concluded with the General Assembly. The youth delegates announced their Rio Resolution to an audience that included British Consul-General Jonathan Dunn, delivering a strong message in a set of recommendations calling for the global community to take concrete steps to protect street children’s rights worldwide. (View the full Rio Resolution here)
The Rio Resolution will be sent to the United Nations and each team will use it as a lobbying tool supporting their specific calls for action in country.
Demanding that street-connected children are registered on the national census, David, from Burundi, said: “It is really painful to be born and live on the street and get to the age of 16 with no legal identity.”
Hagar, Team Egypt, speaking on about the right to education said: “Now I’ve attended congress it’s given me hope to fight for the right to education and fight against the resistance I’m getting from being integrated into the system again.”
Usha, representing India passionately closed the General Assembly and later reflected on the experience: “Not everyone gets an opportunity like this and we are glad that we have been able to establish something with the platform that we got.”
The Congress also produced a petition to the IOC reminding the organisers of the Olympics and Paralympics that children’s rights must be safeguarded ahead of the events. (Sign the petition here)
In a special video message, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, congratulated the delegates by video link and referred to Street Child Games finals in which the young people competed for medals in six Olympic-themed sports events on Sunday.
“Street children often feel isolated and sport can give them a sense of belonging.” But, he added, “This is about more than playing.”
The Finals took place at Forte Sao Joao Urca situated at the foot of the world-famous Sugarloaf Mountain. Here the finals for the 100m, 100m Hurdles, 400m, Long Jump, Shot Put and mixed gender and nationality 4x 100m relay took place. (Click here to see all the Finals action)
All nine countries taking part in the Street Child Games were represented in the finals. Pakistan won 10 medals over the course of the day, including three golds and two one-two-threes in the 100 and 400 meters. The team’s success inspired support back home where they trended on social media and even received support from double Olympic Champion Usain Bolt.
Naeem, representing Pakistan said: “I am so excited I won! I want to tell the world that I am Somebody and I want to thank Street Child United for this opportunity.”
Team-mate Mehar added: “I have done something for my country and I am proud to bring back these medals!”
Dinara won two gold medals for Brazil in the girls’ shot put and 100m hurdles. Innocent won the same medals in the boys’ competition.
Dinara said: “I am so joyful. I want to travel Brazil and the whole world to show my medals.”
Innocent said: “I am very excited I won. I want to tell everyone that sport is important and that you should never give up.”
His team-mate Vianey said: “We are here to fight for the rights of street children back home. We represent our country in Rio and we are proud of that. We will make our country happy too, by bringing back some medals.”
The award for most exuberant celebration goes to Hepsiba, the 100 meter winner from India. She couldn’t stop screaming for joy: “I wanted to win gold in the 100 metres and my determination overtook my fear which made me achieve my goal. It took me a while to realise that I was not only representing street children from India but the country itself, which gave me the extra push.”
Joe Hewitt commented on the finals day: “The first ever Street Child Games final was a day of colour, sport, dancing, singing and joy. The young people from across the world started the day in teams and ended the day united – united for the rights of all street children.”
The teams have now returned home to their countries and continue in their role as Street Child Ambassadors focusing their campaigns for street children’s rights on the key themes identified in the Rio Resolution. Stay posted for updates.