|© UNICEF France/2009/Arrivé|
|Young Ambassadors with UNICEF France listen to the Children’s Government at the school of Hompou, a small Togolese community near the Benin border.|
By Hadrien Bonnaud
LOMÉ, Togo, 19 May 2009 – Every year, the National Committee of UNICEF France organizes a field trip with six young people between the ages of 15 and 18, to promote children's rights. From elementary through high school, the Young Ambassadors encourage children to get involved in helping their peers.
This year, the children travelled to Togo in order to understand UNICEF’s work in the areas of child protection, education, gender equality, health, nutrition and HIV/AIDS.
'What a welcome!'
On their first day in Togo, the children visited the Oasis Centre managed by Terre des Hommes – an organization that shelters children who have been abandoned or are victims of violence and exploitation.
“What a welcome,” said Manon, one of the ambassadors, upon entering the courtyard.
Enthusiastic and laughing, the children at the centre immediately bombarded the Young Ambassadors with questions about how they eat, live and play. After an hour, the children convinced the ambassadors to dance the ‘Agbadja’, one of the many Togolese traditional dances.
Effects of extreme poverty
The situation was more serious the next day at the nutritional rehabilitation centre of Tokoin Hospital in Lomé, however. “How is it possible in the 21st century that there is a lack of food?” Manon asked.
Marie, a nurse at the centre, explained that extreme poverty was the cause. In Togo, many people live below the poverty line, and mothers often lack the knowledge to properly care for the nutritional needs of newborn babies and children, she said.
In response to this situation, the centre organizes training sessions every week to advise mothers on proper feeding and nutrition practices.
Saving lives by talking
On the third day of their visit, the Young Ambassadors visited Agouè Junior High School in the suburbs of Lomé, where young Togolese peer educators were talking to 14-year-old students. The Togolese students asked the Young Ambassadors how they protect themselves from HIV and whether they have ever taken an HIV test.
When the school bell rang, the young people exchanged e-mail addresses, happy to make new friends.
“What is reassuring regarding the HIV virus is that we can easily save lives just by talking to people,” said Lea, one of the ambassadors.
On the trip's last day, the Young Ambassadors visited a first-grade classroom at Hompou primary school, a small community close to the Beninese border in the Maritime region. Here, they were astonished by the size of the classes – 71 students in the first grade alone.
The principal told them that numbers have increased since the government made primary school free. UNICEF and other partners assist by providing desks, books and latrines.
Changed and motivated
After a week in the field, the Young Ambassadors asked each other about how they can make positive change. They were touched by the warm welcome they received while visiting villages, but were also outraged by the level of poverty.
They returned to France changed and motivated, conscious that each individual’s commitment and action counts to improve the situation of children in Togo and the rest of the developing world.
“But most of all, what I have really learned is that even one person can move mountains,” said Lea. “That encourages me!”