x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Free summer camps initiative for underprivileged children taking off in Dubai

A charity in Dubai has launched a free summer camps initiative for underprivileged children.
Sharma Di Silva and her son Chalana Edirisingha have been the early beneficiaries of the volunteer scheme. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sharma Di Silva and her son Chalana Edirisingha have been the early beneficiaries of the volunteer scheme. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // What started as an act of kindness to help a single mother look after her son is fast evolving into a project to help more children enjoy safe care and exercise while parents are at work.

Chalana Edirisingha, 9, spent most days cooped up in a maid’s room during summer holidays, as mother Sharma Di Silva worked to pay his school fees.

As summer temperatures top 40°C, it becomes too hot for children to play outside, so many working parents have little choice but to pay for child care or expensive summer camps.

That was not an option for Ms Di Silva, a Sri Lankan who earns just Dh2,300 a month. Luckily childcare worker Tracy Fountain stepped in to help last summer by having Chalana join a football camp with her two sons.

It gave her the idea for the Boost volunteer programme, which is now developing in partnership with Emirates Red Crescent to offer summer activities for families that struggle financially and cannot afford to take time off work in the summer holidays.

“Sharma called me for assistance as her son’s behaviour had changed for the worse and she was struggling to cope,” said Mrs Fountain, a community liaison officer in Dubai.

“Knowing how important it is for a child’s physical and mental well-being to be active, we found a solution to get him into a football camp. Once he settled in, we saw a significant change in his confidence and overall mood.”

In its first summer, Boost will provide activities for 100 children aged between 8 and 17, through referrals from charities and less privileged schools.

The programme could later be extended to provide free after--school activities on school days.

“The summer camp was a really good time for my son,” said Ms Di Silva, who lives in Umm Suqeim 2 and sends her son to Emirates English Speaking School in Jumeirah. “I had to work all day and I could not leave him on his own in the house. It was the first time he had done anything like this. It made him so happy.

“Without this, he would have had to stay in the small room alone – there was nothing for him to do.”

Sponsors are being sought to help fund the project and deserving children will attend Boost’s first summer camps in July and August.

“Sadly, this is by no means a unique situation,” Mrs Fountain said. “Parents arrive in this country hoping to provide a better life but have to accept that everything operates on a commercial basis with a lack of welfare for expats.

“Support comes at a cost. When things go wrong financially they can spiral quickly out of control and children are caught up in the problem.”

So far, four summer sports camps have offered free places for Boost, including Elite Sports Academy, M and S Sports Services, It’s Just Football and Fitt HPC.

Chris Brown, 36, managing director of It’s Just Football sports camps in Al Quoz, has offered 50 free places to Boost. He said more was at stake than just getting children active.

“There is a need in Dubai for this kind of community scheme for children who may not otherwise have an opportunity to play sport during the holidays,” Mr Brown said.

Transport costs for two months and the cost of places are estimated to be Dh260,000, so donors are needed.

For more information visit boost.ae, email tracy@boost.ae or call her on 056 5624721.

nwebster@thenational.ae