Inspiring day for education youth advocates at the African Union

Day of the African Child

Mara Sirbu, A World at School's Project Manager for Youth and NGO Partnerships, reports from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the Youth Takeover of the African Union on Day of the African Child on June 16.

It was Monday morning and I was sweating. Not because Addis Ababa is especially hot – in fact the mornings are refreshingly cool. I was sweating because I was in standstill traffic about 6km from the African Union and about to miss the event I have been preparing for the last six months, the Day of the African Child. 

I started the morning in Debre Berhan, 130 km outside of Addis Ababa after a site visit with Nike Foundation’s Girl Hub went unexpectedly long (more on that in my next blog).

While we arrived in Addis Ababa only a few days earlier, the A World at School team has been working for months with partners like Plan International, UNICEF, UN Global Education First Initiative, Women Thrive, our 500 A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors and other key organisations to make the Day of the African Child a truly global event.

Together we organised over 130 events around the world, from Nigeria to Nepal, Pakistan to Peru, Macedonia to Mauritius. All you have to do is take a look at this map to see the sheer breadth of our collective reach.   Events ranged from Quy’s Youth Advocacy Toolkit training session in Vietnam, Beyan’s Online Global Youth Education Summit organised from Liberia, mural paintings in Nepal, a Twitter chat by Sarah Brown and a takeover of Rio de Janiero City Hall with the mayor.

In addition to the amazing events planned around the world, we worked closely with the African Union and Plan to shape the agenda for the flagship event in Addis Ababa. We invited impressive Global Youth Ambassadors like Caroline from Uganda, Gene from the United States and  Nahom and Yoadan from Ethiopia to join us for the flagship event. Plan brought an impressive youth delegation from Egypt, Norway, Liberia and Burkina Faso, to name a few.  

In the days leading up to June 16, I watched my colleagues Chernor and Emily coach the youth on their personal statements to be made in front of the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, ministers of education and 500 young people from around the continent. I watched Craig, Dan and Maddie facilitate sessions with youth, crafting a youth education outcomes document that clearly outlined young people’s demands for access to quality education. I knew there were going to be stories from amazing children and youth who risk their lives just to go to school.

All these things crossed my mind as I sat fidgeting the seat of the car. Luckily this story has a happy ending and I made it to the AU in the nick of time. I heard Commissioner Kaloko reaffirm the AU’s commitment to compulsory and child friendly education.

I heard Satah’s powerful opening statement where she called upon leaders to act today not tomorrow and I watched my friend Chernor share his personal story about his mother’s persistence to send him to school despite the atrocities they faced during Sierra Leone’s vicious civil war.

I am proud to work alongside organisations that have used their networks and resources to not only remember those who gave their lives in the Soweto Massacre in 1976. While the day may have come and gone, we must continue to support people around the world as they fight for their human right to safe access to quality education.

Governments have 10 days to act and put words to action by increasing financing for education at the Global Partnership for Education’s Replenishment Pledging Conference in Brussels.

We’ll be there with our Global Youth Ambassadors to make sure that young people have a voice throughout this process. We’ll also be kicking off our 500-Day Countdown Campaign in a few short weeks. There’s a lot more work left to do and the climb will be steep – but it’s days like this that remind me that when we work together, there’s really nothing we can’t do.

Read Mara's blog about an event for Ethiopian CEOs on the role of education.

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