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Child RightsLearning and DevelopmentYUVA

Honouring children’s right to play through summer camps

By June 16, 2024No Comments

The buzz in the open space in Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, was palpable. A few kids tussled with an electric hand-held keyboard, their voices muffling the dissonant notes they were creating. Other lugged cricket bats from one corner to the other. Groups were engaged in a passionate discussion about the cricket matches that had just ended; others were asking what was yet to come that day. Parents were gazing at the chaos unfolding from their windows, yelling out to their children already downstairs or sending them along to join in the fun. A sign hung across the makeshift temple in the green corner, nestled amongst the plants sowed and tendered to carefully by local community members, a colorful butterfly selfie point, vibrant murals painted by children of the compound that depict their varied interests and identities, such cityscapes, handprints, Doraemon and phrases like “Dosti” and “Zindabad”. Amongst all these visual cues, the sign said: “Welcome to YUVA BASS Summer Camp!”

Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, recognizes “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” And indeed, experts say that play is important for children for numerous reasons. Play leads to cognitive development, and is an important way for children to explore and learn about the world around them, encouraging them to be curious and use their imaginations.
Through play, children learn how to interact with others, and pick up on the essence of fairness and following instructions. Physical activity also develops muscles and motor skills, and helps children expend energy, so they eat and sleep better too.

And yet, for most children in Mumbai and across India, access to play is increasingly hard. In urban settings, safe open space is distributed unequally and hard to come by for children belonging to more socially and economically vulnerable communities. Play is also increasingly dangerous as summer temperatures in India break record highs. Ideal play areas offer nature-based experiences for children’s development, but green spaces in urban areas are in decline. Curated play experiences and classes that are designed to develop a sense of camaraderie or build holistic skills are restricted to those who can afford to pay for them.

In response to decreasing access, with YUVA’s facilitation in select areas where we work, Mumbai’s children and youth collectives have joined hands to assert their right to open space to play. In 2017, youth collectives launched a ‘claiming spaces’ campaign, which included a city-wide forum facilitated by YUVA, and resulted in the opening of more open public spaces.

The importance of play for children -to both learn and have fun – was highly evident in the design and execution of the YUVA summer camp in Mankhurd. Originally envisioned as a cricket tournament, a variety of team building activities were added in to ensure that all children had something to do, rather than many being relegated solely to the role of spectators. The children enjoyed themselves thoroughly while playing cricket and games such as a partnered rope race.

The YUVA team had instituted a rule that cricket teams must be composed in equal parts of boys and girls, and anyone who tried to skirt around this rule risked elimination. This meant the children were making new friends across genders in order to qualify for the tournament. They begrudgingly accepted the victory of those cricket teams that made it onto the semi-finals and finals, cheering on their friends. As the sun rose to its peak in the middle of the day, the children refueled through a short break and happily munched on samosas and sipped on mango juice. Many of them debriefed what had happened in the morning and the excitement of what was yet to come in the evening. Even though the YUVA team encouraged them to go take a nap in between sessions, many children were too excited to do so. All through the day, the energy levels were very high amongst children of all ages, sizes, and genders; each one was walking around and playing with a sense of purpose and belonging.

YUVA’s Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (BASS) , a children’s collective, acts as a platform for children to participate in inclusive community and city-building processes. A group of around 200 children are led by 40 core group members, where pairs of girls and boys each handle 10 members and hold regular group-level meetings. YUVA’s summer camp is one of BASS’s seminal initiatives, now in its 9th year, held over a week in the summer. The summer camps, held at BASS locations around Mumbai, offer a packed schedule of indoor and outdoor activities. BASS invites local leaders, police officers, aanganwadi sevikas and other stakeholders to the camp events to encourage their engagement and give the children a way to meaningfully interact with the authorities that hold the power and resources to make actual, on-ground changes to their living conditions. The camp also acts as an induction programme for newer children joining the BASS.

2024’s camps were themed “The Environment and Us”, particularly fitting during India’s heat wave. The theme was chosen to help children understand how deeply the environment is interwoven into our daily lives, notice the changing climate and rising heat, and the importance of preserving their environment. The camp started with a film screening on the effects of climate change and the steps required to prevent further destruction. The children engaged in a drawing session on the same theme, making artwork on the environment. The children learnt how puppets can be made with waste materials and watched a thematically relevant puppet show. They also visited their local BMC ward’s plant nursery with the BMC garden department, where they learnt about local plants, fruits and flowers from the gardening officials and asked them their questions.

Through 3 days of events, the summer camp was able to engage 80 children in and around Lallubhai compound alone. They provided necessary and welcomed relief to children on their summer break through structured and well-intentioned fun.

The YUVA Summer Camp can act as a helpful model for how to provide quality summer engagement to children from all backgrounds, especially those children who lack access to ideal summer respites such as swimming pools or well-maintained playgrounds. The camps are designed to function within the spaces that such children already occupy (such as the open spaces in their bastis or compounds), using materials already at their disposal (such as cricket bats and balls), and offering activities within a structure and environment that they will be safe in and excited by. By doing so, they honor one of children’s universally recognized prerogatives: the right to play.

Akshiti Vats, with inputs from Shimon Patole

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