24,000 children in Brazil do it every night, could I sleep on the streets for just one? Shivering in the cold is not a favourite pass-time of mine, but recently, I joined about 50 other people sleeping out for a night in Spttitlefied Market for the 6th annual Big City Sleep to raise money for the work ABC Trust does with vulnerable children in Brazil.
As described on Channel 4 news, Brazil has some of the most dangerous cities in the world for street children. Here, every 90 minutes a child will die in gun and drug-related violence. This means that during every football or rugby match that we watch, a child will probably die. It is a sobering statistic, one that shocked Gary Lineker during the 2014 World Cup when he did a Radio 4 appeal for the charity, which currently works with 3,000 children in various projects. If, after reading this, you would like to support this work, then you can donate through their website.
Unlike those sleeping on the streets, Spittlefields provided us with a fenced off area and security guards. All those sleeping out were kindly provided with burger and fries by Smiths of Smithfield, which was very welcome, served by two great folk at their stand. We were also given Brazilian Dance lessons by Douglas Dance from the Brazilian UK Dance Academy. Most of us could only manage a attempt at the wiggle that comes so naturally to most Latin Americans. Watching those few brave souls willing to give it a go was quite entertaining.
After the dance session, the market became a silent venue. We were all given headsets that were radio-linked to the PA for the rest of the night. Dance lessons were followed by a silent disco. DJ Samo Fontana from The Fontanas provided the music. This was a new experience for me. Frankly it looks weird, from the outside, there are all these people bopping away to the sound of nothing. But put the headphones on and it all makes sense, you are caught up in the Latino rhythms and dance away, oblivious to how odd it all really is. I shot the small bit of video below to give a taste of what it was like.
I have not done anything quite like this before, and do not know when I will again. I was certainly a good way to get warm as the night chilled down, though there was no partner dancing going on. Everyone lost in their own little world, which is probably what being in a night club is really like.
Off to the side Tom Keeling from Graff Workshop put together an amazing graffiti mural for the street children. Anyone wanting to have a go was given a bit of a tutorial by Tom and then let loose on cardboard panelling that had been set up for the purpose. Some folks gave that a go, stencilling and spraying away, while behind them the silent disco continued.
After the disco, we were given brief introductions and stories from both ABC Trust and Street Child World Cup about the work these charities are doing to help vulnerable children. ABC Trust supports grass roots projects in the favelas of some of the most dangerous cities in Brazil like Salvador, Sao Paulo, Rio and Recife. Often the children coming to the projects are in danger of being drawn into gangs and dying before they reach 20. The projects try to reach the children before they get drawn into gangs and also works with the wider families. It was a good and sobering reminder of what the evening was really all about.
We then began to bed down for a 'silent' film. Suddenly the whole area was covered with card-board and sleeping bags as people began to settle down. Slowly, after the film, people began to settle down, though I found it very hard to sleep. This was not due to cold, I had a good bag and was actually too warm, but more because of the noise around us and that Leon Restaurant for some reason kept the massive neon lights on all night long. I could not understand this as the whole venue is locked up at night, and were it not for us being there, no one would see them anyway. As it was, the lighting was just annoying, though they did kindly provide us with cups for the tea in the morning.
Wake-up time was 5am, treated to a cuppa and some bread and fruit as we all packed up our stuff and the site. By 7:30 it was all over and we wondered home, passing a couple of elderly people who do this every night in a doorstep next to Liverpool Street Station. I was glad to have been a part, we raised some money, but I am equally glad not to have to do that every night.