Blog|Mozambique|18 July 2023

Leveraging the power of play for children’s mental health in Mozambique 

Street Child

Visiting Street Child's learning centers in Mozambique's northern province of Cabo Delgado, one is greeted by the sound of laughter, the rhythm of running footsteps, and the echoes of play. This is despite the challenging realities for many children and their families. The area has been affected by insurgency and conflict for the past several years, with more than one million people being displaced internally. It’s within this context that we visited Street Child learning centres in the area earlier this year.

Street Child's education programmes in Mozambique leverage the power of play to support children's mental health. Our learning centres—based near local primary schools—provide a safe space where children can engage in play, participate in organised activities, receive counseling support, and access educational services. Children of all ages (we met children as young as 2 and up to age 14!) participate in the daily sessions, which can host as many as 200 participants at once.  

Mental health support for conflict-affected children: 

Growing up in a country in conflict, many of these children have experienced grief, abuse, violence, and neglect, leading to isolation and withdrawal. Street Child’s learning centre activities play a vital role in helping children socialise and feel comfortable with their peers. Street Child's staff deliver mental health messaging in a gentle and accessible manner, ensuring the centres are welcoming and uplifting environments. Creative approaches, such as using balloons for breathing exercises, help children in managing anxiety and panic attacks. 

In every community we visited, the centres were bursting with children who were beaming as they played. There were games, dancing, volleyball and skipping competitions. But most of all there was football... 

Football as a unifying force: 

Football takes center stage in these centres, uniting children of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Structured football sessions not only promote physical health but also serve as a platform to discuss important topics and engage children in dialogue. The passion for football extends beyond organised sessions – children eagerly organise impromptu games with makeshift goalposts and wide-open pitches. This universal language of sport creates a sense of belonging, breaks down barriers, and instills a spirit of camaraderie among the children. 

Empowering girls:  

 In Mozambique, despite the power of play allowing children to be children, many face uncontrollable challenges, particularly girls who are disproportionately affected by issues like early marriage. At one of the centres, we heard about girls as young as 11 getting married. Our team must tread carefully in situations like this as it takes time to build relationships and foster healthy discussions on the topic. We take a sensitive and gradual approach to address such complex issues, building trust with children, families, and communities. After identifying these cases and building relationships, Street Child initiates discussions within the community, advocating for the delay or end of child marriage. Ensuring the safety, education, and empowerment of girls is an integral part of Street Child's work in Mozambique. 

Thanks to the support of donors like UNICEF, the FIFA Foundation, and the Swedish Postcode Foundation, Street Child can continue to use play and sport as transformative tools in Mozambique. Join us in making a difference by donating today or learning more about our work in the country. Together, we can empower children and foster resilient communities. 

Tom Fitzpatrick is a Senior Programmes Funding Manger, and Ellen Fitton is Street Child’s East and South Africa Representative. They recently spent time in Mozambique meeting with local partners and experiencing Street Child’s programmes in action.