September 28, 2015

#UpForSchool Town Hall blog: 10 million people stand up for education

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

Town Hall Sore Agbaje  of I Sell The Shadow picture by Steve Gong

Performer Sore Agbaje from the group I Sell The Shadow tells the story of the abducted Chibok girls in Nigeria Picture: Steve Gong

More than 1000 young people, campaigners, celebrities and leaders are gathering in New York today for the #UpForSchool Town Hall event.

World leaders meeting at the United Nations General Assembly this week have agreed the new 15-year global targets. Education is at the heart of each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Today's Town Hall event - held jointly by the British charity Theirworld and the United Nations children's agency UNICEF - will mark the hand-in of an incredible 10 MILLION signatures for the #UpForSchool Petition. It demands the right of every child to get an education - no matter who they are or where they were born.

This blog will keep you up to date with news, pictures and videos from the Town Hall. The event starts at 1.30pm New York time (EST) but you can visit throughout the day for updates on a historic occasion. All times given on this blog are local.

Learn more about the event here and relive the historic moment when singer and campaigner Shakira handed over the 10 million signatures.

Watch the event on livestream

We'll be bringing you all of the #UpForSchool Town Hall event through our livestream below.

Rise up with our Youth Ambassadors

A powerful video called Rise has been made by Steve Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American director, writer and film producer who has helped to spread the #UpForSchool message. It tells the story of three of A World at School's network of 500 Global Youth Ambassadors in 85 countries.

Here is a teaser of the video - the full film will be shown during the event.

Fitting venue for a historic moment

11am Today’s event is being held in the historic Town Hall in Manhattan. It’s a building steeped in history that gave a platform to the suffragettes movement, the civil rights movement and other historic people-led movements.

So it’s fitting that we are here to mark the hand-in of the #UpForSchool Petition - a call for action led by young people across the world and taken up by millions in more than 200 countries. Here's the view from the stage.

Town Hall from the stage before the event

Picture: Steve Gong

And here is the stage being prepared, with the giant screen showing the moment when Shakira handed the petition to Gordon Brown.

Town Hall stage being prepared for the event

Theirworld President Sarah Brown has been on HuffPost Live today, talking about #UpForSchool. Watch her interview here.

Getting the message out there

12.15pm The #UpForSchool campaign has already been seen by thousands of people in New York today. It’s been showing on huge screens in Times Square.

#UpForSchool Town Hall jumbotron

And here's another view of our message being beamed out to the world. A chance for the early arrivals to get their pictures taken.

Picture: Steve Gong

1pm As the audience make their way into the hall, they are being entertained by some great performances. We have some amazing foot-stomping moves from I Sell the Shadow with a piece called Mecca Dynasty.

Then it's a thumping good show from Berean Community Drumline...

Town Hall Borean Community Drumline

Picture: Steve Gong

...and a beautiful song from Amrit Kaur Lohia - one of our network of 500 Global Youth Ambassadors. She is a fantastic singer and player of the sarangi, a traditional Indian instrument played with a bow. Then she asks the audience to join in with A Change Is Gonna Come.

Town Hall performance by Amrit Kaur Lohia

Amrit Kaur Lohia on stage Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Let the Town Hall begin

1.35 Sarah Brown welcomes everyone in the venue and those watching on our livestream. 

She says: “We are here representing a children's rights movement - #UpForSchool - which has been thousands of organisations, activists and people all around the world and millions of voices signing the #UpForSchool Petition."

Sarah Brown at Town Hall event picture by Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Sarah introduces Fatoumata Ndiaye, Deputy Chief Executive of UNICEF, who says: “We believe education is a child's right, the foundation for a happy, prosperous life."

Town Hall UNICEF Deputy Chief Executive Fatoumata Ndiaye

Picture: Steve Gong

She tells how world leaders promised 15 years ago to get all children a primary education by 2015. An additional 45 million are now in school - but there are still 124 million out of school - 59 million of them of primary age.

Fatoumata adds: "Every one of us has a part to play. By signing the #UpForSchool Petition, by gathering signatures in your communities, by being here today, you are renewing your commitment and your enthusiasm - you are giving your voice and your heart to create the world we want."

The event is in three parts - each with its own theme.

Theme 1 is #UpForSchool

1.40 Sarah welcomes our hosts for this section. One is Rainn Wilson, the actor best known for his role in the US version of TV show The Office, who is also founder of the Mona Foundation - a charity working to eradicate poverty through education - and co-founder of the Lide Foundation, an educational initiative in Haiti. The other is Lulu Cerone, 16, founder of the youth activist organisation LemonAID Warriors, and one of our network of 500 Global Youth Ambassadors in 85 countries.

Town Hall hosts Lulu Cerone and Rainn Wilson picture by Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Hosts Lulu Cerone and Rainn Wilson Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Rainn says: "This campaign is so important to me. None of us would be where we are in the world without education. Education is not a luxury, it's a human right. Aid to basic education is dropping, the numbers of children out of school are going up, attacks on schools are at a 40-year high and world leaders are not doing enough to turn this around."

Lulu says about the petition: "An incredible 10 million people have signed it, world leaders have backed it, celebrities have supported it, communities have embraced it and youth activists have taken it to their hearts.

Town Hall hosts Lulu Cerone and Rainn Wilson picture by Steve Gong

Picture: Steve Gong

"We believe that nothing changes without pressure. This petition will help drive forward real decisions that will result in more children going to school."

1.45 We have our first video of the afternoon - it shows a girl walking through a school building, with voiceovers describing the devastating effects of children being out of school. They include Gordon Brown - UN Special Envoy for Global Education - talking about the struggle that "we have in our power to win".

In a powerful and surprising moment, the girl who was in the film steps on to the stage and gives the #UpForSchool Petition book to Gordon.

Town Hall girl steps out of video

He says: "I want to thank Raquel (the girl in the video), I want to thank all those upstairs - pupils, students, youth leaders - organisations represented here for delivering the biggest ever education petition in the history of the world.

"You are sending a message to world leaders everywhere - no matter where a child is, no matter who that child is, no matter what that child is, they have a right to education and we must deliver that to them now."

1.50 Rainn and Lulu take over proceedings again and pay tribute to some of the key partners who have supported the #UpForSchool campaign. They include ANCEFAMuslim Aid, Save The Children in Brazil and Norway, Avaaz, Walk Free, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), World Vision, BRAC, Salvation Army, CSEI, Plan, Angry Birds, Philippines Foundation, Thandi Tutu and Silvana Koch-Mehrin, founder of Women In Parliament.

Lulu also pays tribute to the High School of Language and Innovation, which has students at the event representing schools around the world.

Lulu asks the 30 Global Youth Ambassadors from various countries who are at the event to stand up and give a wave. Then Rainn asks some of the major #UpForSchool partners on to the stage, including representatives from Muslim Aid, Walk Free and ITA.

Town Hall #UpForSchool partners on stage picture by Steve Gong

Picture: Steve Gong

Alex Monroe from the anti-slavery group Walk Free says: "Education is a critical element of any effort to eliminate slavery because education offers children the support, the foundation, the knowledge and the tools that they need to create and build a healthy future for themselves."

Baela Raza Jamil of ITA talks about the creation of the first child marriage-free zone in Pakistan. She adds: "We collected 200,000 signatures from the child marriage-free zone - but more than that, 2.5 million signatures from across Pakistan."

2.0 Lulu presents our second video on the big screen - this one shows the moment when pop star and education campaigner Shakira handed the #UpForSchool Petition to Gordon Brown.

Theme 2 is Safe Schools

2.05 Gordon addresses the audience, telling them we have the highest number of refugees and displaced people since the Second World War - and the highest number of attacks on schools in 40 years.

He says: “Some of them could go through the whole of their school-age school years without ever having the chance of entering a classroom. I want us to send out a message today - child marriage no more, child trafficking no more, child labour no more, exploitation of girls no more. Let every single child have the chance of basic education."

2.08 Gordon welcomes on to the stage spoken word artist Sore Agbaje representing I Sell The Shadow, to tell the story of Chibok girls who escaped from their Boko Haram kidnappers in Nigeria last year.

Then one of the girls, Salome (not her real name to protect her identity), talks to Gordon about her experience in April 2014. The crowd is hushed as she says: “It is amazing that I am sitting here today telling my story. I could have been someone, nowhere to be found."

She tells how the gunmen stormed the school late at night as the girls were in their beds. They threatened to shoot them and then started burning the school buildings.

Town Hall Gordon with Simone picture by Steve Gong

Picture: Steve Gong

Salome added: "They told us to say our last prayers, that they were going to kill all of us. But I jumped out of the truck and spent the night in the forest." She and her friend who also escaped were eventually rescued. She said: "I pray my sisters are still alive and one day they will come back to school."

2.20 Now we turn to safe schools in Latin America and the Caribbean. On the stage we have the First Lady of Panama, Lorena Castillo, and the education ministers for Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador - Sonia Marta Mora, Marlon Oniel Escoto Valerio and Carlos Mauricio Canjura. We also have Salvador Paiz, the President of FunSEPA.

Town Hall Latin American ministers picture by Steve Gong

Picture: Steve Gong

The First Lady says: "Education is the only tool to get out of the circle of extreme poverty. This is empowering our people. It is the only way to really succeed in life."

Town Hall First Lady of Panama Lorena Castillo picture by Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

The work done by the Global Business Coalition for Education on safe schools is being extended into Latin America. In partnership with UNICEF and A World at School, the new Strong Schools and Communities Initiative will explore opportunities for school communities, national authorities, and the private sector to strengthen programmes that protect learning environments and promote an open dialogue among communities throughout the region. You can learn more here.

2.30 British actress Laura Carmichael, star of the TV series Downton Abbey, comes on to talk about a trip she made with A World at School to see Syrian refugee children in Lebanon

Laura Carmichael picture by Getty Images for #UpforSchool

Laura Carmichael arrives at the event Picture: Getty Images for #UpforSchool

She says: “Today is the first day at school in Lebanon - and thanks to the Lebanese government and to campaigners, 200,000 Syrian children will be back in school. While this is progress, we need to fight to ensure that every child is back in school in the safety of the classroom.”

Laura introduces an A World at School video about Aya and Ayesha, who are both 12-year-old Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Watch it here.

Gordon pays tribute to Lebanon's education minister Elias Bou Saab, who is in the audience - and talks about a plan to get one million Syrian refugee children into school in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Learn more about it here.

2.42 Now we have representatives from two of our Safe Schools partners - Annemiek Hoogenboom from People’s Postcode Lottery and Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of the philanthropic organisation Dubai Cares.

With the deadline to get every child into a quality primary education before 2016 fast approaching, the People’s Postcode Lottery support for education around the world could not come at a more crucial time for those children most in need - particularly in Lebanon, where PPL has helped drive pioneering work on the double-shift school system.

Dubai Cares is building upon its mission to improve children’s access to quality education in developing countries. It is launching a new partnership with Theirworld to support new solutions to meet the challenges faced in emergencies and engage the international community through campaign and communications activities to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn.

2.45 It’s the turn of Adam Braun, Director of the Global Education Platform. He announces that  - alongside partners Wattpad, STiR Education, HP, Twitter India and Teach for India - a Global Education Platform pilot will be launched in India on October 1. YourStoryIndia will be the largest and most inclusive youth digital writing contest in India’s history.

Adam asks some of the programme's partners on to the stage - including Sharath Jeevan, founder and CEO of STiR Education, and Gus Schmedlen, Vice President of Worldwide Education, HP.

2.50 Time for the #UpForSchool awards. We have two hosts for this section - Ishmael Beah, best-selling author, human rights spokesperson and UNICEF goodwill ambassador from Sierra Leone, and Harry Potter actress and Oxfam ambassador Bonnie Wright. The award winners are as follows:

#UpForSchool awards winners

Aliko Dangote for the leadership he has shown in making education a cornerstone of his philanthropic and business endeavours, key to making education a universal right for all.

Valentino Achak Deng for his transformation from Lost Boy of South Sudan to Minister of Education, a testament to the power of education and an incredible story of perseverance, leadership and advocacy. He says: "Without access to education, trained teachers and gender equality, we cannot expect to raise the future leaders who can develop and uplift our global community."

Shelly Esque, Vice President at Intel Corporation and Global Director of the company’s Corporate Affairs Group, for investing in the issue of girls education through the Girl Rising film and making it a cornerstone of Intel’s global engagement.

Holly Gordon, co-founder and CEO of Girl Rising for drawing attention to the critical issue of girls’ education through the use of the powerful Girl Rising film.

Theme 3 is Girls’ Education

3.0 Rainn Wilson brings the crowd to its feet by saying: "Girls are important and they rock." He tells how educating girls is a particular passion of his. He adds: "Girls take what they've learned and they spread it. They share it. Education spreads like a virus. It is a very practical way to reduce suffering and poverty in the world."

He welcomes Sarah Brown back on to the stage, who introduces panellists for a discussion on girls’ education - women’s and children’s rights advocate Graca Machel, Africa Gathering co-founder Marieme Jamme and Codeacademy co-founder Zach Simms.

Town Hall Sarah Brown with Graca Machel picture by Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Sarah Brown with Graca Machel Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Graca says: "You want to break the cycle of poverty? Educate a girl. You want a healthy family? Educate a girl. You want to take society to be much more just? Educate a girl.

"It is an investment which has a multiplying effect for herself, for her family, for the community, for the nation, for the world." She adds: "There are very fantastic examples of success. The challenge now is how do we scale up these good experiences - how do we make them a national movement?"

Marieme, who did not go to school in Senegal until she was 16 and is now a company CEO in London, says: "Every single girl can have access to coding."

Zach says: "Teaching technology still isn't even a priority in the US. It's not a priority almost anywhere in the world. So we wanted to make the educational material available to anyone in a way that was fun and exciting."

And now for the final flourish

3.20 Steve Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American director, writer and film producer. He has been involved in production for feature films and network television programs for NBC Universal as well as more than 40 feature-length and short independent films.

He says: "If there are no powerful voices to campaign then there is no awareness."

Steve has made a special film for this event called Rise, which weaves the stories of three of A World at School’s Global Youth Ambassadors. Watch it here.

Steve introduces Mohamed Sidibay, one of the GYAs featured in the video. A former child soldier in Sierra Leone, he used his past to campaign for marginalised youth. He teaches now in a low-income high school in Colombia, while continuing to advocate for education for all.

Mohamed says: “From the age of five to nine my left hand wasn't used to sign a petition but to squeeze the trigger of an AK47 that was taller than I was.

 

Town Hall Mohamed Sidibay and Steve Nguyen on stage picture by Steve Gong

Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

“This war for educational equality is personal to me. Because I know first-hand how it feels to wake up in the morning and not be able to go to school. I know how it feels to wake up in the morning, not by the sound of an alarm clock I set, but the sound of guns and bombs dropping and reducing my memories to flames.”

3.35 The final guest is Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi. He says: "The petition by 10 million is not just a petition. It is a clarion call from 10 million people that we want education and through education we want freedom."

Town Hall Kailash Satyarthi picture by Getty Images for #UpForSchool

Kailash Satyarthi with the programme Picture: Getty Images for #UpForSchool

He asks everyone in the audience to take their Town Hall event programme and points to the last page, which is for people to leave a message for the newly formed International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, which is chaired by Gordon Brown.

Town Hall Kailash Satyarthi chats Up For School picture by Steve Gong

Picture: Steve Gong

Sarah presents him with the final #UpForSchool award of the day and Kailash leads a chant of "Up For School."

3.40 The event comes to a close with more rousing music from Berean Community Drumline.

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