November 19, 2014

#UpForSchool London rally blog: Kailash Satyarthi joins young people at petition’s UK launch

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

#UpForSchool youth rally London

Hundreds of youth activists, VIPs and a Nobel Peace Prize winner are at the #UpForSchool youth rally in London today.

The event, titled Our Future, Our Rights - Youth Rising #UpForSchool, is hosted by A World at School and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). It features Nobel winner and children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, alongside Malala Yousafzai's school friends Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, Camfed founder Ann Cotton, ODI Executive Director Kevin Watkins and our event host - Ade Adepitan, the British TV presenter and Paralympian.

This blog will keep you up to date with news, pictures and videos from the rally and official UK launch of the #UpForSchool Petition. The event starts at 2.30pm UK time but you can visit throughout the day for updates on a historic day. All times given on this blog are local London time (GMT). The rally will also be live-streamed to young people around the world. You can watch it here from 2.30pm UK time today.

You can sign the #UpForSchool Petition now.

10am The event is already being talked about on Twitter. Here is what some global organisations have been saying:

11am The build-up to today’s event is beginning this morning. We’re at the Southbank Centre in London - the world-famous arts complex on the banks of the River Thames. But it's not quite as sunny today as in this picture below.

Southbank Centre London

11.45 We’re all very excited about hearing from the amazing Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. He recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for rescuing tens of thousands of children from trafficking and slavery.

Kailash has already signed the #UpForSchool Petition at the Delhi headquarters of his charity Bachpan Bachao Andola. Here he is putting his name to our call for world leaders to keep their promise to have every child in school and learning by the end of 2015.

Kailash Satyarthi signs #UpForSchool Petition

Before Kailash flew over to the UK, A World at School went to visit him in India to talk about his amazing work. You can watch that video interview here.

1.30pm More participants are beginning to arrive at the venue. Each of them - whether they be a VIP, a student, a teacher or activist - will be given a pack which includes an #UpForSchool petition card and an Overseas Development Institute leaflet.

2.05 Most of our guest speakers have arrived and are looking forward to addressing a packed hall. Hosting the event on stage will be Ade Adepitan, who is well known throughout the UK as a TV presenter and medal-winning member of the British Paralympics team. The former wheelchair basketball player, who contracted polio as a child, was born in Nigeria and moved to London aged three.

Ade Adepitan #UpForSchool rally London

#UpForSchool rally pictures by Oliver Dixon/Imagewise

Ade, 41, won a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympics and a gold at the 2005 Paralympic World Cup. He has appeared regularly on TV and was one of the main hosts of the 2012 Paralympics in London. His charity work includes helping organisations that help people with disabilities.

2.20 As the guests take their seats in the hall, we’re getting a musical performance from London-based Amrit Kaur Lohia, who is a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School.

2.25 Talking about the 58 million children out of school around the world, Amrit (pictured below) is now singing A Change Is Gonna Come - the Sam Cooke song with the very apt chorus "It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come."

Amrit Kaur Lohia #UpForSchool London

2.30 Ade sets the ball rolling with the official introductions. He tells how his family used all of their savings to move to London because the care for children with disabilities was better than in Nigeria and because he would enjoy the right to go to school. He waves to the Global Youth Ambassadors who are watching the events on a live stream.

Ade says: "This wouldn’t be a youth rally without some powerful youth in the room, who have come from all over London and different parts of the country to join us for this occasion.”

2.35 Now the speakers and special guests are on the stage. They include Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education - who is a surprise special guest. With him are Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, Overseas Development Institute chief Kevin Watkins, Camfed founder Ann Cotton, A World at School co-founder Sarah Brown and Malala Yousafzai’s school friends from Pakistan, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, who are courageous campaigners for education.

There’s a brilliant atmosphere in here. Change is in the air. And about time - with 58 million children still out of school and not learning. The venue is packed with young people who are now watching a very special video from ODI. Entitled Our Future Our Rights, it features Moussa, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. You can watch it on the video player below.

2.38 Ade now introduces the guests. First to speak is Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister and UN education envoy. Some late arrivals mean it's standing room only in this packed area of the Royal Festival Hall. There must be 500 people crammed in here - including dozens of school students.

Gordon welcomes everyone and asks everyone to remember the 219 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram in April. He says: "We should send a message to them and to the thousands of girls across Nigeria who are insisting on their rights to go to school and get an education."

He says it is time the world stopped abandoning refugee children from Syria, Gaza, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic and other conflict zones. 

He mentions the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Millennium Development Goals, when world leaders promised in 2000 that every boy and girl in every country would be at school by the end of 2015. Many of the 58 million out-of-school population are working in child labour, many are in child marriages, many are discriminated against simply because they are girls or have disabilities.

Gordon Brown #UpForSchool London rally

Gordon adds: "In the last 25 years we have seen the internet, artificial intelligence, the secrets of the human genome and yet we cannot create a situation where children can write their own name because they are denied an education." He says that unless something is done, 100 years from now there will still be children denied an education.

Gordon urges everyone to sign the #UpForSchool Petition to send a powerful message to world leaders. The picture below shows him signing the petition at the #UpForSchool youth rally in New York in September.

Gordon Brown signs #UpForSchool petition

2.50 Gordon mentions that he and ODI chief Kevin Watkins will be calling on the UN to consider a children's human rights court. More on that later.

2.54 Gordon says that "a freedom fight is underway" - a struggle led by young people across the world. He adds: "People will look back and say, in this generation in 2014, a historic civil rights struggle for the rights of young people is underway." He tells the school students in the room: "We must stand up and fight. We need you to work with us."

2.58 Now for a special video message from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. He tells the audience: "Too many children are still denied the right to go to school. Many are victims of violence, forced into war or forced into underage or early marriage, discriminated against or exploited.” He encourages everyone to sign #UpForSchool. He adds: “Together let us stand up for education.”

Ban Ki-moon video message #UpForSchool

3.0 Ade introduces Kainat and Shazia, who were also injured on their school bus in Pakistan in 2012 when the Taliban shot their friend Malala Yousafzai. Both are now living in England and are Global Youth Ambassadors for A World at School.

Shazia, 16, says: “Like many others around the world, I am committed to making sure that the right to an education is not ignored, that the voices of boys and girls like me are heard.” Kainat, 17, says: “When a girl is given the right to an education then she has options for her future. This is what I hope to have for myself.”

Kainat and Shazia with Sarah Brown #UpForSchooly rally

Sarah Brown with Kainat and Shazia

They tell how they were targeted for being girls who wanted to go to school. Shazia adds: “Malala survived and so did we, but it made us ask: why can we not walk alongside boys? Why do we have to cover our books and risk danger of attack for wanting to learn? Why? Books are my future, and I believe that education is a fundamental right.”

Both teenagers urge millions to tell world leaders to hear their voices and stand #UpForSchool.

3.05 That was very emotional. There’s a  hush in the hall here. And now we are watching an ODI video about two brave girls in Uganda who are speaking out about their experiences of forced marriage and of living with blindness.

3.07 Overseas Development Institute Executive Director Kevin Watkins is now telling about the work his organisation does on child rights and what needs to change in the future.

Kevin Watkins #UpForSchool London rally

Kevin explains there are 34 million children around the world working in hazardous conditions and adds: “They’re putting their lives and their limbs on the line because poverty drives them into work.”

He says the UN must consider the case for a human rights court for children to investigate in depth the scandal of 15 million child brides per year, 15 million child labourers not in school and 32 million girls prevented from going to school - half a million of whom have been trafficked.

Kevin tells the students: "Sign this petition and get 10 of your friends to sign it too. That is how we change the world."

3.17 Gordon Brown takes centre stage again and introduces the joint 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi. Gordon and Kailash are good friends - in fact, they are sitting relaxed on sofas as if they're on a TV chat show! You can read the results of a revealing interview when the UN education envoy asked the child rights activist about his work.

Kailash asks the many young people here if they like chocolate, football and Christmas. They all say yes - and then Kailash tells how he met children who work in cocoa production or who stitch footballs to be sold around the world. He also met children who were forced to make toys but who would never get the chance to play with them.

He adds: "Freedom is divine, freedom is truth. Every child has the right to be free and to be educated. Slavery is one of the worst forms of violence but denial of the right to learn is another form of violence."

3.25 Now Gordon introduces Camfed founder and president Ann Cotton, who recently won the 2014 WISE Prize for Education for her work in helping marginalised children in Africa.

Kailash Satyarthi Ann Cotton #UpForSchool Petition

Ann (pictured above with Kailash) says: “Not going to school damages the mind - it is mental and emotional violence that says ‘You don’t count. The world doesn’t care about you and your right to education’."

She tells about the work of Camfed in helping girls to get into school and then creating opportunities for them once they leave. Gordon asks how the 32 million girls not in school can be helped.

Ann says at the heart of the problem in Africa is poverty and that education must be free and families must get economic help.

3.36 Now it’s the turn of young people to ask the questions to Kailash and Ann. The subjects they bring up are the rights of children during crises such as the Ebola outbreak and the rights of children with disabilities.

3.47 Now for a video message from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Tony Lake. You can watch it in the video player below.

3.50 Thanks Tony. Ade now introduces our final guest - Sarah Brown, co-founder of A World at School, to introduce the #UpForSchool Petition. Sarah says A World at School wants this to be the biggest petition in history. We already have pledges of 12 million signatures from various organisations. She says they include Avaaz, African Teachers Network (ANCEFA), Shining Hope for Communities in Kenya, Pearson, Western Union, Reed Smith, Hearst Magazines and the Global Campaign for Education in the United States.

She invites on to the stage the people who are leading the campaign in their communities - teachers, Global Youth Ambassadors committed to collecting 1000 signatures each and champions for education such as Jenny Smith from the TV series Educating The East End and TV presenter Andy Akinwolere.

A huge photo is now being taken that can be shared on social media to spread the word. Everyone is holding a poster or card over the head to mimic the #UpForSchool logo and all those in the audience are being asked to sign the petition.

3.55 That’s the official end of today’s event. Ade gives one final rousing plea for everyone to sign the petition and then the #UpForSchool film comes on the big screens. You can watch it here.

Thanks for joining us. We’ll continue to add photos, tweets and other updates as the day goes on. Some please come back - and share this blog with your friends and colleagues.

And don't forget to sign the #UpForSchool Petition now!

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