Tag Archives: Children’s Rights

Malawian children from Nancholi district

See our World: Hear our Voice

I’m grateful. Simply put, I grew up in a world where opportunities to express myself, whether it be through sport, music, drama and or the written word, were endless. It was not natural for me to sit and look pretty as a child, or hold my emotions inside. On the contrary, if I was silent, there was something wrong. As a result, I (perhaps naively) thought a child’s curious nature and imaginary ideas were something to be cherished and accepted.

Malawian children from Nancholi district

In Malawi, a silent cultural norm envelops the country, placing children in a category where they should only to be seen and not heard. This type of belief system is hard to comprehend, as my privileged childhood was inclusive of classical repertoire, endless travel and copious amounts of books encouraging critical analysis.

It never occurred to me that kids in other parts of the world were being muted.

On the bright side, organizations like Plan International have been implementing programs designed to address child rights issues, specifically relating to health, access to education, food security and the silencing of youth. According to their website, “Plan Malawi seeks to support government efforts to bring about lasting improvements in the quality of life of disadvantaged children,” through awareness raising and capacity building.

Since 2007, the well-known non-governmental organization has used its extensive reach to bring child rights abuses to the forefront by providing youth with a platform where they can vocalize their concerns. Their solution: radio programs. Plan’s ultimate goal is to “enable [children] and show them their full potential.”

With funding provided by Plan Malawi, Timveni, or “hear us out” as the program is fittingly called, was started by a Canadian journalist named Tiferaji Aryee. Founders, along with Plan, outline that “an essential part of their work is to create spaces for children and young people to discuss together the issues which affect their lives, then ensure adults respect their views so that children may be involved in community decision-making.”

An intern at Capital FM conducting a radio interview

With Plan’s financial contributions, organizers tackled the situation by empowering youth with media skills, giving them the opportunity to create and produce radio programs throughout the country on child rights issues, like child trafficking, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS that negatively affect them. The thought behind the radio project was to have media produced that is by the children and for the children.

Each year, 25 deserving boys and girls across the country are nominated by their schools to partake in the radio project. “First, you have classes educating you on Plan Malawi’s initiatives, then you learn about human rights and child rights and then broadcasting skills,” says Beatrice Mfune, one of the first female participants, selected at the age of 14. “After two weeks, we record programs and we make programs completely about children,” she says.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the project “was receiving letters from kids who heard our programs and liked them,” says Mfune. Before this opportunity, she admits to her oblivion regarding what constituted children’s rights, what type of treatment is considered an infringement of their rights and where a child could voice their concerns without fear of retaliation.

According to Plan, some organizers recognized that there was still an educational gap on the ground. Children, particularly those living in rural areas, were not being actively engaged in the Timveni radio programs. As a solution to this problem, Timveni organizers got together and created what they call the “Listeners’ Clubs.”

Most Listeners’ Clubs consist of 15 to 20 children that meet every day to hear the youth designed programs. If they have any questions or concerns about the content, typically relating to child rights, they formulate letters with a Plan representative and mail them to presenters, who in turn read them on air.

Currently 18 years old, Mfune somberly reflects on her first excursion with the Timveni project. It was early morning when their bus pulled up to the front doors of Lilongwe Central Hospital. Silently, Mfune and her colleagues followed organizers down a long corridor leading to the children’s ward. They were completely unaware of how this experience would change their outlook forever. “There were kids with burns everywhere and some weren’t accidental,” she explains. “For some children, if they took K20 ($0.12 CDN) from their parents, they would burn them.”

After a thoughtful glance, Mfune turns to me and exclaims in a soft voice that it was in that moment at the hospital where “it made [her] feel like [she] could do something for people in need.”

Having a Plan

It’s easy to get jaded seeing sign after sign in the streets of Accra pointing the way to one NGO or another. Despite the slew of development organizations here, people continue to live with poor drinking water, low incomes and lack of decent health care.

One NGO (besides jhr, of course) seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Plan Ghana has been working with children in the country since 1992. The goals, according to their website, are to provide quality education and teacher training, create awareness of children’s rights and ensure food security for children.

Anyone can state goals on a website. It’s much harder to find effective ways to achieve them. Plan Ghana held a forum this week as part of a week-long workshop on the status of children in the country. They flew in 80 youth delegates from all over West Africa. It had real results.

This wasn’t an event where adults tell kids what they should think. The young delegates posed questions to the forum guests, including the United Nations Representative for Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, and the Ghanaian Minister of Sports and Youth, Akua Sena Dansua.

Most importantly, the kids got a chance to tell their stories to a wide audience, and the media and representatives from various NGOs had a rare opportunity to hear well-spoken, motivated youth describe their experiences with children’s rights abuses.

One girl from Cote D’Ivoire told us in her native French how girls in her country are beaten by child traffickers when they refuse to prostitute themselves, and how a three-year-old girl was sexually abused by a neighbour. Police jailed the man for 72 hours and released him.

Outside the auditorium, Plan Ghana displayed pictures made by West African children that illustrate the abuses they’ve seen during their young lives. There were images of people being beaten, stabbed, raped and murdered.

I remember drawing snowball fights and monster trucks when I was their age, maybe the occasional army tank. No one being murdered though, or raped—I was lucky enough to grow up far away from that.

The forum was effective because the kids were active participants, not mere objects to be educated. We learned as much as they did during the forum, if not more. These kids came away with the pride of knowing they played a role in shaping their future, and Plan Ghana distinguished itself as more than just another NGO with a bunch of goals posted on its website.