He was a hero, father to many, a legend and an icon.  Befitting all these titles, he believed in the power of reconciliation, education, and youth emancipation.  Because of Nelson Mandela, many have looked past skin colour and walked together to achieve their goals.

 

Having spent 27 years in prison, Mandela maintained the spirit of reconciliation and ultimately brought everyone together and built a better nation for South Africa; a sentiment that many other African states struggle with to adopt for their own benefit this day.  My work in development has personally been moved and influenced by three of his famous quotes, which I recall each day as I strive to improve the lives of women and children in Africa.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

 

Stated long before the United Nations Millennium Development Goals solidified this sentiment, Nelson Mandela affirmed that every child deserved equal opportunity to education, and in doing so, would make the world a better place.

In my work in remote areas of Zimbabwe, l have seen firsthand the influence and impact of culture on education.  As a patriarchal society, the girls of Zimbabwe are less recognized or supported, and their education is not a priority compared to that of the boy child.  Instead, girls are commodified as assets, which contributes to the high rates of child marriages across the country.  My NGO, The Voice of Africa Trust, has run an advocacy campaign to end child marriage since 2014 with a focus on education as the fundamental key to creating sustainable and ethical change.

The Voice of Africa Trust has also worked on the Red Fairy Campaign, which collects and donates sanitary pads for the girl child to ensure consistent attendance of school at all stages of the menstrual cycle, after our research showed that many young girls did not have money to purchase sanitary pads and would opt to miss out on up to 7 days of schooling when they menstruated.  Although still in the early days of the campaign, we have seen great impact of the project and we are looking to scale it up to more regions and with the provision of reusable pads to ensure sustainability.

Together, we can work on ensuring the next generation has access to quality, sustainable and accessible education.  Together, we can build our continent and together we can use the power of education to change the world.  Instead of arming child soldiers with guns we will arm them with books.  Instead of sending a girl away as a child bride, we will send her off to a classroom to get an education that helps her become an autonomous and capable woman.  With education, we can be the change we want to see.

 

“There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

 

Africa risks forever being seen as the darkest continent of all due to its well-documented inhuman treatment of children.  Though we are not the only continent in which children’s rights are violated, our perception globally – and, arguably domestically – is that we are unrepentant for it, justifying such atrocities under the misconception of ‘culture’.

As the most vulnerable members of society, we owe it to children to protect them from violence, but this can be possible if we collectively band together and create systemic protections for them.  In 2016, I worked on 16 Days of Activism Against Child Abuse, a national educational campaign that sought to end child abuse by making children aware of their rights, providing instruction on how to identify different types of abuse, and detailing how to report their cases.  In successfully reaching over 17,000 students during our first year alone, we took it upon ourselves to train teachers to detect and protect children in school, as they spent most of their time there.

The campaign was followed by the successful launch of Safe Spaces for Children initiative.  Hosted both in and out of school, counsellors and teachers make themselves available to children to provide access to counselling services to children enduring, or recovering from, abuse.

We have made some progress in children’s rights, but we are far from success.  For the longest time, we’ve turned a blind eye to all the misfortunes faced by children.  It’s time to put their needs first and be a society that truly empowers its children.

“It is in your hands to make a better world for all who live in it.”

 

All people should strive to make a difference for somebody else’s benefit, and not wait for leaders to make meaningful impact for us.  I have dedicated my life to trying to improve standards of living for some of the most vulnerable people in Africa – not just for their individual benefit, but for the benefit of the entire country.  Each day brings with it an opportunity to use it however we please, but for some, this means only pursuing personal achievements.  For others, the ambition is greater: to make meaningful impact in our homes, communities, and countries, so that we can keep giving long after we’re gone.

As is the purpose of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, creating a better future begins today.  Africa’s people – of all ages, genders, and backgrounds - must stand together in the spirit of togetherness and build our continent.

 

Let us aspire to inspire… before we expire.

 

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