By Khadi Mansaray, London, UK.
I was a baby when the children of Soweto were publicly shot, blissfully unaware of world events and what they meant. Years later as a teenager, I cried my heart out as I watched the movie Sarafina and to this day the songs give me goosebumps.
The 1976 protest was about education, those South African children marched because they wanted better education. Today, thankfully the right to education is recognised worldwide; and the rights of the child are a priority. Governments, civil society and international organisations recognise how important this is. The Day of the African child was started in 1992 and is probably the best legacy of the OAU, and the African Union upholds this tradition. Its not just about remembering the brave children who fell that day, we are also reminded why this should never happen and collectively we renew our commitment to the rights of the African child. However things are far from ideal. African children continue to suffer. They are still victims of conflict, poverty and tradition; and there are many children who for some reason still cannot get the education they should.
Sierra Leone is no exception, education has steadily declined. Due to the war and other factors the education many have either had their education interrupted, not had the opportunity or have to make do with the most appalling learning conditions. Even with end of the war there are still challenges. The infrastructure of academic institutions has deteriorated to disgraceful levels and private education seems the only way to get decent one. Unfortunately only a few can afford that luxury.
Sierra Leonean children are extremely intelligent, and should be nurtured as they are our future. We have a responsibility to equip them to be the leaders of tomorrow, not only to build on the progress we have made but to take up the challenges that we have failed to. Free primary education for every child would be the ideal outcome but the government is stretched with priorities and cannot do it all. The challenges range from lack of resources, poverty, cultural attitudes and practices. The problems are layered and we cannot continue to expect international organisations to solve all our problems. Sierra Leoneans have to get on board to improve things for future generations. Five courageous women have independently set up charities to tackle the problems head on.
Leading in education is Educaid, founded by Miriam Mason Sesay, Educaid provides free education for underprivileged children. Working against numerous challenges this charity gives hope to many that otherwise would have been lost. The exam results of the schools are the proof of how successful the well rounded holistic approach to education is. Their teaching approach, if rolled into our educational system would be a huge step in moving Sierra Leone forward to regaining its place as the athens of West Africa.
Heaven Homes was charity formed to provide homes for underprivileged children. The founder Kptieu Agyei is driven by the memories of less fortunate classmates in the early years of her life. The charity caters for children who have lost their parents and aims to provide a safe environment for them. The charity is currently building a community at Newton that includes homes, a learning centre, primary school and church.
Peagie Woobay is also driven by early life experiences. At sixteen she was faced with the challenges of teenage pregnancy but was fortunate to have the support that enabled her to continue her education. Today her scholarship fund not only helps teenage mothers go back to school. It funds secondary education for young girls and also aims to educate young girls about the dangers of teenage pregancy and the risk of STDs. Prevention is a key message. Five girls in Bo are already beneficiaries of the scholarship.
Girl Child Network Sierra Leone is a branch of the renowned organisation Girl Child Network Worldwide. Internationally acclaimed Betty Makoni says she was moved to tears by the plight of girls in Sierra Leone. Country director Anita Koroma is passionate about empowering girls. This charity helps girls to develop empowering mindsets and its work involves teaching basic skills that could prevent them becoming victims of domestic or sexual violence.
These charities are the evidence of what can be achieved when Sierra Leoneans do it for themselves, no one can do it all but we all need to do something. They do not have fancy head quarters in Freetown but they go straight to the communities and do what is needed. Supporting these charities would go a great way in improving things for our children. They are already there they just need our support to do deliver more and better.
To celebrate the Day of the African Child show, I produced a special radio show for the Sierra Leone Diaspora Radio Network. The aim was to showcase the leadership skills of our children across the world and I was amazed about how much I learnt from them. We now live in a globalised world and its important to expand boundaries of communication to and get our children at home and abroad talking to each other. For many of us no matter how far we travel, or set up comfortable lives elsewhere Sierra Leone will always be our spiritual home and the same applies to our children. There is an undeniable connection that we must preserve for future generations. This interaction between our children should be encouraged. African children in the diaspora are still African children and have a role to play in our future. Our children are far more perceptive than we may give them credit for and the messages from both sides of the Atlantic were clear. They want to be respected, they want to be involved, they want to be empowered and they want our support. It is hard to make space for the voice of children in world where adults are preoccupied with earning a living but the Day of the African child reminds us why we should.
Ruby Kamara Johnson gave an inspiring interview. Sillah Koroma and Abibatu Samara did a beautiful reading of Eku McGred’s poem’ I am an African Child’ and Abibatu herself is a budding poet whose work has been published in a reputable News Portal like The Patriotic Vanguard. Alfred Sesay, Koehun Aziz-Kamara and Keanna Koroma robustly told us what they would do if they became President of Sierra Leone. In these children I saw beauty, courage, intelligence and most of all I felt hope for our continent. God Bless Africa.