The late, great Nelson Mandela once said: “young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” For International Youth Day, young campaigners involved in our My Rights, My Voice (MRMV) programme explain how they’ve been speaking out and making change happen.
In a world where half the population is under the age of 25, children and young people have the potential to bring about transformational change in their lives, communities and countries. MRMV works with children and youth to increase rights awareness, to strengthen their voices, and to support them in claiming their rights to health and education services.
Young campaigners from the eight countries where MRMV operates share their diverse experiences below, including lobbying presidential candidates, demanding better school supplies and monitoring local authority spending.
Mali: Adam, aged 21, MRMV Youth Advisory Board Member
‘What is really special about MRMV is that youth are at its core. In many African countries, leaders do not have confidence in youth. Youth have to be recognised as key actors of change to have them participate, to give them responsibilities and place trust in them.’
‘[During the elections last year] we wanted to vote for someone who took into account our needs regarding sexual and reproductive health rights and quality education. [The presidential candidates] told us, “That’s not our priority right now, our priority is the war.” We told them, “Health and education are essential. If you don’t sign this commitment, we’re not voting for you.” We discussed until they all signed.’
Georgia: Ana, aged 17, MRMV youth club leader
‘I knew nothing about my health rights until two years ago when I became involved in MRMV. We’ve done a lot to bring up health care issues in our city through campaign actions, pantomime and even demonstrations. I’ve also conducted training workshops in my school and shared information and skills with peers.’
Afghanistan: Samera, aged 18, MRMV provincial youth group representative
‘Our participation in youth groups is a big achievement which has raised our voice and seen action towards our demands. Education and health play an important role in society and youth development: we’ve succeeded in solving book shortages in some schools, monitored health clinics, and noted problems.’
‘I would like to ask the government to take youth issues into consideration because we are an important sector of society and could bring about real and lasting change in Afghanistan. If the government involves us we could play a role in the stabilisation of our country and bring about positive changes in politics.’
Nepal: Bipul, aged 15, MRMV Children’s Health Committee Chairperson
‘We’ve done awareness-raising campaigns to improve the situation in our school and community on health services. Now, most young women in our area know about the importance of going for health check-ups during pregnancy and their right to free medicines.’
‘We used to think the local authority budget for children wasn’t an issue for us, but now we monitor the budget allocation and make sure it goes towards scholarships for poorer students.’
‘My ultimate wish is to change society by becoming a teacher or national leader – I would like to implement laws on health and social problems such as child marriage and discrimination, because at the moment they’re dragging society backwards.’
Niger: Nouridine, aged 19, MRMV Espace (Youth Confederation) Leader
‘As leader of my espace, I facilitate meetings and discussions on questions around education and sexual and reproductive health rights affecting youth in my community. I have benefited from several capacity-building sessions on rights and communication and campaigning techniques. My involvement in the project has also had an impact on parents, there is now collective awareness around issues such as educating girls and the dangers of child marriage.’
Tanzania: Rose, aged 18, Chairperson of the MRMV-supported Baraza (Student Council)‘Participating in activities has improved our knowledge and created spaces that enable us to give our opinions at school, to communicate with decision-makers, and ask teachers to respond to issues raised. MRMV has empowered me to become a leader: I am chairperson of the baraza, where we discuss the various challenges we face in school. It has helped us solve some of our school’s book needs, to obtain water at the students’ hostel, to improve student discipline, and to elect the leaders we want, and whom we trust to listen to us and defend our needs.’
Vietnam: Su, aged 12, involved in MRMV project activities
‘I was trained on how to take pictures and look after a camera – I took pictures of my friends’ difficulties and then told teachers and local authority leaders to support my friends in dealing with these. I hope many children will have the opportunity of participating in the project training.’
Pakistan: Fariha, aged 20, MRMV Youth Advisory Board Member
‘Sixty per cent of people in our country are youth; the majority of the population.’
‘Many positive changes have occurred – two months ago, a bill was passed in two provincial assemblies in Pakistan against child marriage. Youth are the ones who face these problems, and MRMV has given us the opportunity for equal participation, to engage policy-makers, and address our problems more effectively, because that’s the best way – that we ourselves talk to them about what we experience and what problems we are going through.’
If you are a young person involved in claiming your rights, or you work with youth, we’d love to hear your stories. Please get in touch using the comments below. Also, you can hear from more inspirational youth via Twitter using the hashtag #youthday: https://twitter.com/hashtag/youthday