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Zambia, 3 December 2010: 'Unite for Climate' youth ambassadors raise environmental awareness

© UNICEF Zambia/2010
A Ministry of Education representative addresses students in Zambia, where the Unite for Climate programme equips young people to inform their peers and communities about the effects of climate change.

By George Githuma

MONGU, Zambia, 3 December 2010 – “I see more disasters such as floods if the current climate change trends do not change. Floods continue destroying schools [and] increasing levels of illiteracy as children drop out of school,” said Unite for Climate Zambia Ambassador Tambudzai Mutale, 17, in a recent podcast.

The podcast was part of a series broadcast in the run-up to the COP16 United Nations climate-change conference now under way in Mexico. This series aimed to illustrate the toll that climate change takes on the world’s children - especially those in developing countries.

The UNICEF-supported Unite for Climate Zambia programme equips young people like Tambudzai with advocacy skills to help them inform their peers and communities about the effects of climate change. With funding from ING, the Netherlands Committee for UNICEF and the Danish National Committee for UNICEF, the three-year programme launched in January and operates in all of the country’s nine provinces.

Advocating for a ‘floating school’

Today, Tambudzai and other Unite for Climate Zambia ambassadors are advocating for a ‘floating school’ that will not be destroyed by annual floods in the country’s Western Province. Working with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education office in Mongu, they have identified a site for the school in the Baroste plain, which floods during Zambia’s rainy season from November through April.

“This is an example of the power of children’s advocacy in bringing change in their communities,” said UNICEF Representative in Zambia Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa, who visited the proposed floating-school site on 26 November with Western Province Education Officer Muyangwa Kamutumwa.

© UNICEF Zambia/2010
Unite for Climate Zambia Ambassador Tambudzai Mutale and George Githuma from Children's Radio Foundation listen to podcast recordings outside the Malabo school.

“The floods get worse in January, and we have to transfer to Mabumbu school in the higher grounds and can only come back in May, or sometimes in June, when the water has gone down,” explained a student from the area. “For those who cannot afford to transfer, they have to wait until when the waters have gone down for them to go back to school.”

Floods lead to drop-outs

Children from families that are unable to relocate will miss school – a situation that results in spending extra years to finish or for many, dropping out altogether.

Even when students can return, most of the few available desks are waterlogged, and schoolchildren have to read and write on the floor. To make matters worse, the mud walls and thatched roofs have disintegrated, exposing students to high winds and scorching sun.

With help from the young Unite for Climate ambassadors, UNICEF Zambia is partnering with the Ministry of Education to help alleviate these recurring problems.

Forum for young voices

“We children, with our little power and influence, we are already working to create solutions,” said Saboi Saboi, 17, from Mongu. “What would happen if world leaders with more power and influence put a little bit of commitment to address this issue?”

The Unite for Climate Zambia ambassadors exerted their influence by recording the podcast series with the Children's Radio Foundation (CRF) – which empowers young people across Africa by teaching them radio production skills and distributing youth-produced broadcasts. CRF plans to develop similar podcasts at workshops in Kenya and South Africa.

Meanwhile, through a CRF-hosted blog and a special Facebook page, Unite for Climate Zambia is providing a forum for young people who cannot attend the COP16 conference.



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