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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Children need to play wherever they are in the world

This opinion piece is about 10 years old

Michaela Collins Munro, 23, traveled to Guyana in South America to see the work Unicef is doing there to give disabled children the chance to play

It was incredible to think that having had such a rewarding time helping children back in Glasgow, here I was arriving in South America to see Unicef’s work to help children in very similar situations. But I couldn’t believe how much more difficult it was for them.

Life for disabled children in Guyana, as in many countries around the Commonwealth, is often very limited and hard. Many are not allowed to leave the four walls of their home, because of fears of bullying, embarrassment, concerns over road safety or a lack of suitable places for them to play.

Traffic, bullying and no safe open spaces are the exact same issues that Glasgow kids face too. What is happening to the world? When did a car become more important than a child's right to play? Why are we teaching our children intolerance instead of acceptance? Why is a car park more important than a play space? Children, wherever they are in the world, need to play.

In Guyana I met a 12-year-old boy called Kelan. He can't speak very well. He can make sounds, but cannot form words properly. His needs are currently undiagnosed. His mum told me that he recently fell over in the school playground, banging his head on the concrete and the wide gash needed stitches.

Kelan and his mum live alone. Although Kelan has other older brothers and sisters, they have left home and very rarely visit. Some of them call Kelan disgusting

As I introduced myself to Kelan he started clapping. So I began to clap along with him. His smile showed that he liked me copying the noise he was making.

I started to clap some beats and he listened and clapped the same beat back. He had a look of amazement on his face. I started to sing 'If you’re happy and you know it', a song that Kelan had never heard before. He loved it.

Kelan and I then walked back into his front yard, and I showed him chalk for the first time. At first Kelan just held it and was intrigued about this colourful round stick he was holding. I showed Kelan what chalk does by colouring in his bench. He had a look of awe and watched before he decided to try for himself.

Life for disabled children in Guyana, as in many countries around the Commonwealth, is often very limited and hard

I noticed that Kelan didn't have a good grip and the chalk would fall out his hands and through the gaps in the bench. He started to get frustrated. So turning his frustration into fun, I flicked the chalk on its side and it began to roll, right into the gap. Kelan began to watch. It took about three gos until he tried it on his own. He was successful and gave a smile.

Next we tried balloons. He was excited and began hitting them into the air straight away. Something he was quite clearly good at.

Kelan also tried to kick the balloon – that's when I noticed how shaky and unstable his legs were. He tried again and again, but couldn't quite get it. Kelan fell a lot, but each time he got back up on his own.

I then slowly stood back and introduced his mum who was standing watching. I got her to pick up one of the balloons and hit it with her hands just like Kelan had earlier. Kelan saw his mum and decided to join in.

For around 10 minutes I watched Kelan and his mum play together. As they chased one another and hit each other with the balloon, I smiled. The sounds Kelan made within that half an hour were pure laughter.

The next day, Nicole and I met more children at the play park that Unicef has helped set up for children like Kelan. Many had travelled a long way to get here, some for the very first time. This was a very special moment. And I felt honoured to be a part of it.

Nicole is exactly the same as you see on screen. Heartwarming, fun and genuine. Her presence had an immediate effect on the children, even though they didn't know how much of a superstar she was.

Within seconds of meeting the kids with Nicole, smiles were everywhere and minutes later we were singing and dancing. Every child in the room, regardless of their disability, was included. Exactly how it should be.

This playground is the first of its kind in Guyana, and its setting makes is accessible to all children – it offers a unique chance to include children with disabilities.

Meeting the children brought back so many personal memories, emotions and experiences but I feel so privileged to have been given this opportunity, meet so many amazing children, learn about Unicef’s work and share my skills to help children explore their potential and most importantly have fun!

I will never forget this experience; there is so much I want to do now to help children in Glasgow and Unicef. I can’t wait to share my story with the world on July 23. Make sure you tune in to the opening ceremony to watch Nicole and me in Guyana.

Glaswegian Michaela Collins Munro, 23, from the east end of Glasgow works for children and young person's charity the Peek Project. She is one of six Flying Scots chosen by Unicef to see how its partnership with the Commonwealth Games is helping disadvantaged children around the world. She traveled with singer Nicole Scherzinger to Guyana.