|Rwandan children at an Amani Africa celebration on 16 June, the Day of the African Child.|
By Carole Douglis
KIGALI, Rwanda, 17 June 2008 – At sports events, school assemblies and cultural gatherings throughout the nation, children and adults celebrated the Day of the African Child this week. The continent-wide holiday commemorates the spirit of the South African children who sparked the Soweto uprising of 1976 – many of whom gave their lives.
“Thirty-two years ago, the children of South Africa took to the streets to protest that their voices were not being heard in schools, that they were being discriminated against, that they had no rights,” UNICEF Rwanda Chief of Operations Patrice Demoustier said at a ceremony with children and government officials in the Southern Province.
“They rallied their parents, their elders, and their nation to demolish apartheid. June 16 will always be remembered as the day when the voices of children were heard,” added Mr. Demoustier.
|Children attending Rwanda’s Day of the African Child activities watch a football game from a higher perspective.|
Expressing their rights early
The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child, fittingly, was child participation in civil society. At a celebration in a schoolyard on the outskirts of Kigali on Saturday, over 100 Rwandan children showed that they are learning their own rights and gaining their own voice.
“Who can tell me the rights of the child?” Charles Nkazamyambi asked the youths crowding a grassy ‘stage’ where they had just performed and watched skits on convincing parents that children need to go to school. Mr. Nkazamyambi represents the Foundation for Sports and Culture for Peace in the Great Lakes Region.
Answers came from the youths quickly and easily:
“We have the right to be protected from violence!”
“All children have the right to go to school!”
“The right to eat and live!”
“The right to express our opinions!”
“The right to worship where we want!”
“The right not to be forced to work!”
“The right to play!”
|Soccer matches like this one near Kigali draw children to events where they also learn about their rights.|
Weekly gatherings reinforce learning
Every Saturday morning, the foundation, soon to be called Amani Africa (amani is the Swahili word for peace), attracts some 2,000 children to activities at 10 venues around Kigali. With few other occasions for games and camaraderie, vulnerable and out-of-school children are particularly attracted to the Saturday sessions.
After soccer or volleyball matches, the children create role-plays about unity, gender, prejudice, education, HIV and AIDS, and other topics in the foundation’s curriculum. The skits spark animated discussion.
“Sport draws the kids in and helps them unite in a team,” said Mr. Nkazamyambi, who spent over a decade travelling the world as a professional track-and-field athlete. “After that, they’re open and ready to listen and express themselves on important issues.
“Children have told me they take what they’ve learned home, too,” he added. “If they hear a parent denouncing another group, for example, they will say, ‘No, I learned that’s wrong. We are no different from them.’”
Children leading the discussion
Thanks to government efforts and initiatives such as Amani Africa and the UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization Right to Play, Rwanda is one of Africa’s leaders in terms of child participation.
Youth representatives wrote a chapter on children in the country’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, for example. And each district has a Children’s Forum to advise on youth issues.
In August, more than 400 children – representing each administrative sector of Rwanda – will gather in Kigali for the fifth annual Children’s Summit to discuss issues of concern to young people and recommend action.