A video production company based in the city centre is using Virtual Reality (VR) to raise awareness about the challenges street children face.
Brendan Stein, creative and managing director at Soapbox Films, said the idea for a video came after his drive to work one cold winter morning.
“I saw some street children and street people sleeping outside and this made me wonder where they had come from and what their stories were.
“This sparked a conversation with my team and we felt that VR or 360-degree video would be an excellent way to put more-privileged people into the shoes of street children and help everyone understand them and their plight better. We believe that VR is the ultimate way to make viewers part of an amazing story and to be immersed in the story itself.”
Subsequently, Soapbox Films contacted The Homestead Projects for Street Children to offer the organisation their services free of charge to produce a 360-degree video to assist with fundraising and raising awareness about the challenges street children face.
The Homestead provides accommodation, family reunification and reintegration services to boys living on the street. “They jumped at the idea and provided a lot of help and guidance, said Mr Stein.
Paul Hooper, director of The Homestead, said: “The Homestead Projects for Street Children is a comprehensive response to the plight of chronically neglected and abused children who end up on the streets of Cape Town.
“These are traumatised kids who really need a completely new chance in life. And the great thing is that we can give these boys a future. We’re not just holding children, we’re unpacking them, taking all the anger away, we’re taking all the trauma away, we’re taking all the hurt way and we’re giving them the education and the skills so they can be healthy adults.”
In the 360-degree video, partly filmed at The Homestead shelter premises, a 17-year-old boy narrates his story, revealing how he ended up on the streets and how the NGO is assisting him.
As a result, viewers get a first-hand experience of what street children go through every day and how they live at The Homestead. The Soapbox team recently demonstrated the 360-degree video via VR headsets to the staff of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID).
Commenting on the video, CCID fieldworker Mark Williams said it felt surreal. “I’ve been at The Homestead many times as we work closely with them and seeing the video felt like I was right there on their premises.”
Mr Stein said the response to the video has been “fantastic”, and people have engaged with it.
“Part of it has been emotional; the feeling that you’re standing in The Homestead shelter dormitory with the child as he tells you his very personal story.
“The human connection is still there even though you can’t see his eyes – we had to blur out the children’s faces for legal reasons. Another response has been practical; seeing the kind of environment that many of the children come from and feeling like you are there amongst the shacks gives the viewer an insight into where the kids come from.”
The 360-degree video will be used by The Homestead for future fundraising events, for which Soapbox Films will provide VR headsets so that attendees can “explore” The Homestead.
Mr Hooper said by supporting The Homestead directly, you are helping to save over 135 children a year from the street, provide residential care to 90 street children each night and keep 300 chronically neglected and abused community children at home, at school and away from street life each week.
“We have always encouraged people to visit our centres to see our work for themselves because it is very different from reading about it. Those who visit always come away most impressed and surprised that we can offer such high-quality, therapeutic and developmental projects for street children in South Africa. And, after the visit, they have a better understanding of how The Homestead has managed to reduce the number of children living on the streets of Cape Town by over 90%, and why we are getting such outstanding education results and are able to successfully transition youth out of care and on to independent living without having them return to the street as young adults.
“Now, thanks to the 360-degree video, you don’t necessarily have to visit our centre to still get the same real perspective of who we are, what we do and how we live our vision that ‘no child should live, work or beg on the streets of Cape Town and that every child should live in a community with a family’”.
Contact the Homestead on firstname.lastname@example.org