The concept of this story is told from an African child who has seen it all and knows about the challenges faced by other youth. It ties into the many pieces the author has written for Wellbeing for Women Africa about the challenges faced by the girl child in Africa.

 

I have been forced to confront my fair share of harsh truths, growing up as a young girl in Africa.  I have seen the pain and suffering, the violence against women and children just like me.  I have seen loved ones turn violent, and by the time I reached adolescence, l felt l had seen it all.  Africa has inflicted so much pain and suffering on her children; the misery echoes like drumbeats.  But still, underneath this agony, I still hope.  I still believe that, one day, Africa’s children will know joy – the real kind; the kind that lasts.

I sit and dream of a free Africa, a better continent that loves and protects its people.  A continent where democracy is not just in theory, and war has ceased to exist.  In this fantasy Africa, we would not just come together on the Day of the African Child (16 June) to agree that children deserve a better life.  Instead, we would end the violence against children and women, end child marriages, end female genital mutilation, and in doing so, empower the girl child.  Some say that Africa has been home to both the birth and the death of humanity, the latter taking form through brutal killings of innocent people.

I have been fortunate – my education has been piecemeal, but expansive – and I know enough of the world to know how much of my own life to question.  I am more fortunate than many of my friends, but none of us is truly privileged.  These words are my diary, my love letter, my proclamation.  I am asking you, dear reader, to understand.

Suffering comes in waves – big enough to overwhelm you, leave you coughing and spluttering and scared – and then it passes.  Or maybe we just have short memories.  Today some new depth of human unhappiness is trending, but a week later, it’s forgotten news.  We have heard the horrific attacks of Boko Haram, the kidnapping of young girls, the massacre of innocent people.  Then we forget.

I wonder how much I will remember; whether it would be a mercy to blink and have it all float right out of my mind, forever.  I would not be the first.  When I remind my family of all that has happened to my friends; that at the age of 13, one was married off to a man old enough to be her own father, that another was denied her right to education and forced to be a mother despite being a child herself, that there are countless other stories that go untold and that I can’t even imagine… well, they seem to stare at me as if I am telling them urban legends, and not real happenings.  Some of my friends have already forgotten my friend Thato, who bled to death during an illegal abortion that she had needed - she was too young to be a mother – but was forbidden from accessing legitimately.  She was scared, and believed the old man who had impregnated her when he told her that he would take care of everything.  I try to remember.  I ask myself: “Do you remember Nothando? She misses a week of school during her monthly menstruation cycle because she cannot afford sanitary pads. Do you remember Thubelihle, whose screams you still hear when another girl asks, voice low, what it feels like to have the cut? Do you remember the other girls? How they survived? How they are doing battle to become women?”

On the Day of the African Child, we must remember.  Not just my story, but those of the many young Africans whose stories have no platform, have no voice, have no audience.  Remember their challenges each day, and do more than just feel pity – do something for them.

I have been told that education is the key to success, but it is hard for me to know if it is true as I was denied my right to education.  I have been told that the sky is the limit, but that means little if my wings have been clipped.  I remember the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and the frustration of my people as the African states failed to achieve them.  The Goals were reviewed, amended, made more ambitious: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were born.  In their complexity also came their substance: it became immediately clear that we shall fail to achieve SDG’s by the 2030 deadline if young people are not steering the development.  So long as they are not consulted, and for as long as they are not involved in policy making, Africa will fail to innovate to the level that it needs.  Africa’s youth are not tethered to the old development agendas of our predecessors.  We have never been more educated, global, or ambitious.  We have the answers to our problems, and the solutions to our challenges… all we need is a platform to speak out and be heard.

Mama Africa gives guidance and hope to those that are troubled, and it is possible for this to become a continent where people can live together peacefully, regardless of their language, race, nationality, and religion.  This African continent will be cultivated by its youth.  Whilst the suffering of Africa’s children can be blamed on any number of external factors, I’ve stopped blaming my suffering on the color of my skin or the disadvantages Africa has faced in its long, complicated history.  Here, it is possible for young people to live their dreams and inspire a brighter tomorrow for this beautiful continent.  As we celebrate the Day of the African Child, we should reflect on were this continent come from, where it have the potential to go, and how far the young people can take it into a sustainable future.

 

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