My name is Michal Rybacki and I am doing a Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. Since I am about to start my professional career soon, I decided to choose the placement course to supplement the theory learnt at university with practice. As part of it I did my internship at S.A.L.V.E. International, a Manchester-based charity working to get children off the streets in Jinja, Uganda. This experience was invaluable as it allowed me to do something positive and simultaneously develop practical skills bridging the knowledge I have with the requirements of the sector I am planning to work in. At S.A.L.V.E. I assumed the role of Children’s Rights Officer. My main tasks comprised the preparation of educational resources for Ugandan street-connected children to help them better understand and advocate for their children’s rights, as well as the compilation of recommendations for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child based on feedback provided by the children.
The work on the children’s rights educational resources lasted for almost the whole placement period, requiring much energy and creativity, and simultaneously giving lots of satisfaction in return. My goal was to make the somewhat abstract concept of children’s rights from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child understandable to street-connected children in Uganda, keeping in mind the socio-cultural context they live in. Ultimately I produced a nearly 50-page long handbook introducing more than 20 children’s rights in an approachable (I believe) way, full of pictures, games and group activities related to each right. It can be used by local S.A.L.V.E. facilitators or by children themselves directly to learn about their rights and get inspired to advocate for them. When working on it I had to look at things through a child’s eyes which was enjoyable, and at the same time try to suggest activities that would have some educational value and provide feedback for S.A.L.V.E. on how to better protect the rights of street-connected children in Jinja.
And this is where the ‘serious’ yet even more exciting part could start. Based on the feedback we got from children engaging in some activities designed by me, I was able to determine what could be done to improve their situation in terms of children’s rights protection, and together with other S.A.L.V.E. members we compiled a set of recommendations for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to inform the drafting process of the General Comment on Children in Street Situations. Using normal language: we have prepared a list of suggestions for a UN body which is working on a document containing guidelines for states telling how they should implement the UN Children’s Rights Convention to meet the special needs of street-connected children. It was the first time S.A.L.V.E. was asked to submit such recommendations and I was immensely happy to assist it in this important undertaking.
As a result, I felt that both my skills and knowledge gained at university could not have been used and developed in a better way. Primarily, I had a strong sense of purpose knowing that S.A.L.V.E., as a small yet very active charity, can really impact the lives of street-connected children in a positive and long-lasting way, and my work supported this effort. Moreover, I developed my drafting and report writing skills which I am hopefully going to use in my future career in international non-governmental organisations dealing with human rights advocacy, peacebuilding or development. Consequently, with S.A.L.V.E. I contributed to providing other people with better life opportunities, at the same time improving mine.