The countdown to Rio 2016 is truly on. Come August 5th, all eyes will be on the iconic Maracanã for the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony – but it won’t be the first international sporting event held in Rio de Janeiro this year. Back in March, Rio hosted the inaugural Street Child Games.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio are sure to provide a glorious feast of sport, but not everyone in Brazil will rejoice. The Games may make life even tougher for the homeless children of Rio de Janeiro.

The Street Child Games and its aims

Organised by Street Child United and held in association with Save the Children, the Street Child Games sees some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised children coming together to compete in the spotlight of the Olympic host city.

As well as giving underprivileged kids a platform on which to compete and enjoy sport, the event – through the Street Child Congress – fundamentally aims to promote children’s rights. It seeks to challenge perceptions about street kids and, more importantly, to give them a voice and to lobby for street childrens’ rights.

The Congress enabled the young people to lead discussions on the issues and basic human rights abuses they face, such as legal identity, protection from violence and access to education and to clean water – all fundamental human rights to which they are denied. The United Nations estimate there are 150 million children worldwide living on, working in or at risk of winding up on the streets.

Teenagers spoke openly at the Congress about their experiences of street life, with violence a recurring theme. Many of those listening were said to have been reduced to tears by some of the stories. The youngsters presented their ‘Rio Resolution’ at the Congress General Assembly to local officials, national governments and representatives of the UN.

The Ultimate Underdogs

The kids who took part in the Games are the ultimate underdogs, not just in sport but in life. Born into brutal wars, violence or abuse, they readily risk their lives by fleeing their ‘homes’ or working in dangerous and frankly dreadful conditions.

Sport’s language is universal – it transcends barriers and cultural differences, and giving them the chance to shine in sporting competition helps to change perceptions and minds.

The power of sport gives the kids confidence and hope

Youngsters aged between 14-19 represented Argentina, Brazil, Burundi, Egypt, Great Britain, India, Mozambique, Pakistan and the Philippines, and the event was littered with heart-warming and inspiring success stories.

14-year-old Hepsiba lives with her mother in a night shelter in Chennai, India. She collected gold, silver and bronze medals for her country in the 100m, 400m and 100m hurdles respectively and it has given her the confidence to continue training and pursue her dream of becoming a professional athlete.

Hepsiba told The Guardian:

“It was very difficult at home in India. I live in a night shelter and many other children are struggling like me. On the streets we could not have a bath or eat properly. I wanted to win gold in the 100m 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 an extra push. Now, I have won, I know I too can achieve.”

If you want to donate to the campaign, click here – whatever your donation you can help make an enormous difference to the lives of street children across the world.

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