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Malawi, 14 June 2015: Engaging youth at Malawi’s Children’s Future Festival

14 June 2015, LILONGWE, Malawi – More than 9 million people in Malawi are under the age of 24. They represent 60 per cent of the population, catalysts for future growth and development. Today’s first ever Children’s Future Festival gave Malawi’s future leaders a chance to learn new things and express their opinion on issues affecting them.

Organised by Lake of Stars and supported by UNICEF, the festival saw a variety of fun activities for every child. Early in the morning children were already washing their hands and dancing with Mister Sopo, the big green soap bar who wobbles around, challenging everyone to show their best dance moves. However, it’s not only the music and dancing, but also the usefulness of handwashing that appeals to 15-year-old Innocent Chikdadzu: “I wash my hands after going to the toilet and also after playing. I like it because it prevents me from diseases.”

For those who preferred to enjoy the festival more quietly, there were tablets on which children could learn throughout the day. It proved to be a hard task for parents and guardians to convince their children to go home at the end of the day “I really like learning on this tablet, I don’t want to stop! It gives me an opportunity that I don’t have at my home or school,” 9-years-old Atupele Chawawa confirmed.

However, the good old paper books could also charm many visitors like Wanangwe Nkhandwe (11) and her friend Evelyne Msiska (10), who were sitting at the festival’s book corner to share a story and a laugh. For Wanangwe, stories are an important part of life, and she’s lucky to have a teacher who knows how to make her and her classmates learn: “I don’t just like the subjects in school, but mostly the examples and stories our teacher tells us. Having a good teacher makes it easy to love school.”

What also makes it easy to love school is having smaller classrooms and special attention for girls and children with disabilities, three important issues that were part of the declaration of 10 commitments for Children and Youth in Malawi. This declaration was signed in May 2014 by all presidential candidates, including the current President, Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, and was also presented at the festival by young ambassadors who had their say on the progress for each of the 10 commitments.

The 10 presidential commitments also include the protection of girls. In the efforts to tackle violence, prevention is the first measure that should be taken. And thanks to the self-defence demonstration of our partner NGO Ujamaa, girls now know how to make clear that “no” means “no”: “We learned how to use our voice to protect us from violence. Girls can get away from a threatening situation by making a scene, warning for consequences, calling for help, or just yelling NOOO, very loud!” one of the presenting girls demonstrates.

A big red NO is also a fundamental part of the UNITE campaign, which UN Women launched in Malawi in 2012. “We all know girls who have been beaten, in school or at home. Children should be able to use the rights they have. We think the best way to do that is to tell a big person and report violence somewhere.” Queen Chida (11), Judith Chipofia (10) and Rachel Nilenda (9) said.

Children from different backgrounds were brought to the festival by several partner organisations of the UN in Malawi. Girls from the Special Olympics played the match of their life against the Malawi Queens, the country’s netball team which prides as the best netball team in Africa. Another girl, 11-year-old Brenda Daliken, will go back to her orphanage with numerous good memories: “I had so much fun today, I saw things that I had never seen in my life.”

Every child has the right to speak and be heard. They have the right to see their voice reflected in important decisions affecting them, such as the new development agenda, which global leaders are deciding on at this very moment. 2015 should be the year of global action for children, engaging everyone to demand and drive change. For every child, and with every child. Because to change the future, we have to start with children. 

All photos copyright: UNICEF Malawi/2015/Chikondi

 

 
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