|Malal Diam Sow at the UN Special Session on Children, May 2002.|
Malal Diam Sow is no stranger to the impact that young leaders can have in their schools, communities and on the international stage. At age 15, he was participating in his second international forum at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children, held in May 2002.
Malal was born in the Grand Medine neighborhood of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. He is one of the youngest children in a large family, with four brothers and two sisters. He doesn't live with his family. A few years ago, his parents were able to enrol him in a special school, called Daara of Malika, that was founded especially for children who might otherwise be begging in the streets. The school is not close to his home, so Malal sleeps there with many other students, visiting his parents during school breaks.
Basic literacy, Koranic studies and vocational skills are taught at the school. Often, Malal organizes leisure and sports activities for younger students who cannot visit their families. As one of the older children at the school, Malal has always looked after his younger schoolmates.
Advocating for other children
Malal’s first experience as a young leader on the international stage was in 1999 as a delegate to a Children's Forum in Geneva, that was set up to highlight the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Once back in his country, he passionately shared his experience with his classmates and decided to get actively involved in the fight against poverty. He became a member of the Senegalese Children's Parliament; ATD Fourth World, an organization working against extreme poverty; and ATD Fourth World's children's branch, the Tapori Movement. During a meeting organized by Senegal's Family Minister, he also addressed the President of the National Assembly to emphasize the need for laws against child labour.
Young voices are essential
Malal believes that young people have a critical part to play in the decision-making process. In New York he participated in the Children's Forum, at a roundtable organized by the non-governmental organization Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and spoke at the March for Children's Rights.
"Following our Geneva meeting, we made an appeal to the world's leaders that they help us build a better world," Malal explains. "The time has come to ask 'big people' to lend a hand to build this better world."
The themes that concern him are diverse. Armed conflict, HIV/AIDS and education are particularly important. "I find no issue that we should not address, as all the things we address can only help in advancing the world," he says. "My most important message is: the world must do away with war."