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What did you want to be when you grew up? How does that compare with what your children want to be? Do our kids have the right balance between family responsibilities and play time?

These are some of the questions we’ve been reflecting on this week after releasing the findings of our global children’s survey, Small Voices, Big Dreams. This is the second year ChildFund has conducted the survey, one of the most comprehensive polls of children’s views in the world.

One of the interesting themes to emerge this year has been around the issue of play opportunities for children in different parts of the world. Our survey finds one in four Australian children wants to be a professional athlete when they grow up, and more than a third would spend a free day playing sport or other physical activity. Conversely, children in developing countries would prefer to be teachers or doctors, and one in four say they would spend a free day helping their family by doing housework, farmwork or other chores.

As I write in today’s National Times, this is not to suggest that Australian children are spoilt or indulged, but it does demonstrate the vast difference of opportunity between children in Australia and their peers in developing countries. We can be pleased and proud that so much opportunity for play and recreation has been created for children in Australia. This is a vital part of nurturing a healthy generation.

However, we can also learn a lot from children in developing countries, who demonstrate a high level of responsibility toward family and community. We know that children like to have a sense of responsibility. They want to have a valued role within their family and community, even from a young age. They enjoy and develop through exercising responsibility.

At ChildFund, we recognise that play is a vital part of a child’s development. The opportunity to play and to participate in games or sport is known to stimulate intellectual development, improve dexterity, build confidence and develop important social skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving and conflict resolution. Officially this is recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which asserts that children have the right to play.

This is why we incorporate play opportunities for children in our work. We hold Children’s Days where children get to participate in games and other activities. We provide play equipment at the schools we build. We work with communities to reduce the burden on children in terms of household and livelihood duties and create more time for education and play.

ChildFund Laos country manager Chris Mastaglio talks more about the importance of play and how ChildFund is helping to create play opportunities for children in Laos in this video:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. How do we strike the right balance between work and play for children?

Listen to Nigel speaking to ABC radio about this issue here.

I am a psychologist currently working as the Integral Program Coordinator at the Tonala program, a ChildFund partner organization in Mexico.

I am also a former sponsored child, and I grew up benefitting from the organization I now work for.

I became involved with ChildFund when I was 8 years old. When I was in sixth grade, I started writing letters to my sponsor. I`ll never forget the opportunities I had to write to him €” I loved to share my achievements with him. I would share about school because I liked school a lot, about poetry and about contests I participated in.

One of the most wonderful experiences I remember telling him about is a visit to Oaxaca for a state sports event ChildFund was a part of. They took us on a walk through downtown, and it was all new to me. I was 10 years old. I also shared a lot with my sponsor about specific traditions and celebrations in my community and about the weather.

He always managed to get a letter out to me at least once a year.

Unfortunately, my sponsor had to cancel after being with me a few years, when I was in ninth grade. I was very sad when I heard this because, even though we had written to each other only every once in a while, I discovered, thanks to him, that there was a world out there. I learned about the sea, the most amazing fish species, huge homes. One time he sent me a package with his favorite photos.

Still, my relationship with ChildFund continued. I loved receiving school supplies at the beginning of every school year, and I enjoyed participating in all kinds of ChildFund activities.

I continued to study hard, and when I finished high school I left the community to go to college and study psychology at an Oaxaca state private school. I was able to do this thanks to a full scholarship I received because I had been an A student, with a record of good behavior and perfect attendance.

However, going to school was hard even with the scholarship. To earn some money, I worked in the college`s administrative offices. My father, a taxi driver, gave whatever he could, and my mother sold some of our chickens and pigs. I also made pozole, coffee and flan and sold them door-to-door.

I was working in my first job after college, for a nonprofit organization called Mexfam, when I met a staff member from ChildFund`s Tonala Program, from which I had so many fond memories of growing up. She invited me to give a presentation for a mothers` workshop. Not long after, they invited me to apply for a job there.

I have always loved to work with children €” I think I`m very patient, which makes me suited for the work. What I like most is when sponsored children receive their letters. I try to help them write back and show them how they can better express their ideas and feelings. I share with them that one of the highest dreams of a sponsor is to know that their sponsored child continues his or her studies and prepares for the future.

I still love to write poetry, and I share it every chance I get. In fact, in some of the events ChildFund organizes in the community, I use it according to the theme we`re working on.

I think ChildFund is an organization with a very strong and clear objective. They try to cover the most important needs of the communities they work with in Mexico. ChildFund has a special way of thinking of each community and its people, in which it`s more important to know the real needs of the people rather than to impose an administrative process wherever they work. ChildFund cares for people.