Passionate to support her peers

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By Monique Awad
Shamila is a Grade 5 student
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020
23 September 2020

Balkh, Afghanistan, 23 September 2020 – The COVID19 pandemic had adverse impact on all children across the world, yet for 11-year old Shamila, it presented an opportunity.

Living in Balkh district, northern Afghanistan, Shamila is a Grade 5 student.  Yet, due to COVID19, schools were closed, and 10 million students missed out on learning.

‘I want to do something to support my peers and children in my neighborhood, says Shamila.

Following her parent’s consent, she enrolled in a child-friendly space in her neighborhood that is supported by UNICEF and funded by United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

‘I am enjoying the activities at the child friendly space (CFS), especially that now I am not going to school due to COVID19,’ says Shamila.  ‘I want to learn as much as possible at the CFS to teach other children.’

Turning challenges into opportunities

To date, in Afghanistan, there are approximately 40,000 COVID19 reported cases.  Yet, many other cases are not reported.  Most importantly, communities are either not abiding by the World Health Organization’s guidelines on how to prevent the spread of COVID19, or are questioning the spread of the virus.

With partners, UNICEF supported more than 54 child-friendly spaces in Balkh district, northern Afghanistan. 

‘These child-friendly spaces provide most vulnerable children with much needed psychosocial support,’ says Noor Al Kasadi, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Afghanistan.  ‘Amid COVID19, at the CFS, we also raise the awareness of children on how to prevent the spread of the virus as well as child protection issues such prevention of stigma and discrimination.’

At the CFS, Shamila and several other children acquire life skills training, receive psychosocial support and awareness raising on COVID19 prevention and child protection related issues including child marriage, unsafe migration, exploitation, and other child rights violations.

‘I am trying my best to learn how to prevent the spread of COVID19,’ says Shamila with a smile.  ‘I really want to teach my peers and other children in our neighborhood.’

After several sessions, Shamila volunteered to educate her peers and other children on the importance of preventing the spread of the virus.  She also raise the awareness of her peers on prevention from violence, abuse and exploitation.

‘I started going door to door to educate my peers on how to wash their hands, how to wear masks and the importance of physical distancing,’ says Shamila.  ‘I also teach them how to protect themselves from violence, abuse and exploitation.’ 

Shamila’s mother tongue is Dari, yet some people in Balkh district speak Pashto.  To reach out to these Pashto speaking children, Shamila engaged her friend Somaya to volunteer.

‘My friend Somaya who is also trained at the child-friendly space speaks fluent Pashto,’ says Shamila.  ‘I got her to join me in educating children on how to prevent the spread of the virus and on child protection issues, especially when engaging with Pashto speakers.’

These children are using innovative ways in transforming challenges into opportunities.

‘When I grow up, I want to become a social mobilizer and work with UNICEF,’ says Shamila.  ‘This way, we can drive change in our communities.’