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​Constitution Hill is raising funds to reopen its Children's Room, which is 'essential to the development of children'.

Once filled with the gay laughter of frolicking children, the Children's Room at Constitution Hill now stands quiet, with scattered toys lying idle in the gloom.

At the centre of the room, the metal and wood Tree of Justice stands forlornly, the scales of justice swinging gently from one of its branches. At the far end, the puppetry show is empty, the puppets most probably having long forgotten their lines.
But this sad sight is about to come to an end. Constitution Hill is "seriously" thinking about re-opening the room which closed in 2008 because of a lack of funding.

"The room is essential to the development of children. That is why Constitution Hill would like to reopen [it] as soon as possible," says Mmabatho Mokwena, a former co-ordinator at the Children's Room.

However, the main glitch in its resuscitation is funding, without which the Children's Room will remain under lock and key. She says it needs about R600 000 a year to operate.

"Even though the previous centre was very popular among children and adults alike, we intend to open a better place for the children to enjoy."

It is located at the Old Fort at Constitution Hill. Reminiscing about its past glories, Mokwena says the room - which will be renamed the Junior Centre when it reopens - hosted about 100 children a day in its heyday.

"We used to host schools from all over Gauteng and beyond. Children would be taken through the history of the Old Fort and on a tour of Constitution Hill. They would learn about the South African flag and what it represents, their rights, justice and democracy."

The tour would end at the Children's Room, where they would partake in interactive games and shows. Children would get immersed in drama, music, poetry, puppetry and painting.

Despite lying idle for more than a year, the Children's Room looks as if it has just hosted a group of excited children. Drawings hang from the Tree of Justice and a tiny room enclosed by a curtain at the far end of the room appears as if a child will pop out at any moment.
Steps lead up to the top of the Tree of Justice, where there is yet another play area. Here, children have a 360 degree bird's eye view of the interior of the room.

Just outside, a small courtyard is spotless clean. Mokwena says that when it was full to capacity, they would place chairs and tables outside for the children.

The facility not only catered for school tours, but for children in general to get involved in activities while their parents or minders toured the Old Fort or Constitution Hill.

"We usually had children from Hillbrow and Braamfontein who would come for their homework here because the room provided an ideal study area."

It was open six days a week, from Monday to Saturday, but Mokwena says there is a possibility that it will open on Sundays as well when it is again up and running.

Despite being located a stone's throw away from Hillbrow, an area usually associated with crime, the Children's Room is safe. There is 24-hour security and the facility is observed by CCTV cameras.

In terms of funding, Mokwena says Constitution Hill is looking at organisations like the Family and Marriage Association of South Africa (Famsa) to come on board to support the resuscitation of the centre.

"We are also calling on anybody who can assist us reopen the room, which has contributed so much to the education of the children," she says.

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