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At a glance: Japan

Japan Committee’s Flag Project brings together messages from children across the globe

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/Pittenger
Proud students display the finished flag which will be displayed in Japan during a Children’s Festival on 1 May 2005.

By Jasmine Pittenger

DAKAR, Senegal, 5 April 2005 – In Guédiawaye, a neighbourhood on the poverty-stricken outskirts of Dakar, pupils at the Ndiarème B Primary School are getting ready for a special project. They’re crowding around a white canvas flag - coloured pens in hand - ready to cover it with messages to children in Japan. Among them is a little girl in a pink shirt, brandishing a hot pink pen. Moving forward through the crowd, she writes in big block letters on the flag: “We thank UNICEF for giving us a future.”  Next to her a boy writes in red: “Put down weapons so that children can learn.”

Before long, the flag bears dozens of messages. When completed, it will be sent to Japan for the 1 May Children’s Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Japanese people’s support for children around the world through UNICEF. 
In an initiative of the Japan National Committee for UNICEF called ‘The Message Flag Project’, Japanese schoolchildren have written messages to children in developing countries on commemorative flags like this one. In return, schoolchildren in countries like Senegal are creating flags with their own messages, to be viewed by their counterparts in Japan.

It’s hard for most of the children of Ndiarème B - who live in the slum areas surrounding the school and often walk many kilometres to get here - to imagine what it might be like to grow up in a country like Japan. Still, they know what they want to say.

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/Pittenger
A student at Ndiarème B Primary School writes a message for the world’s children.

UNICEF’s involvement at Ndiarème B Primary School has ranged from providing educational materials to supporting the improvement of the school grounds to promoting girls’ education. The impact of UNICEF support is tangible at the school, and no one has noticed it more than the students themselves. “They’ve given us books and pens. They’ve also given us a pump to water the flowers and trees that give us shade and make our school more beautiful,” says 13-year-old Rama Guèye. “I love to come to our school because it will give me a future,” chimes in her 12-year-old classmate Fanta Sidibé with a shy smile. “I want to be a woman doctor when I grow up.”

It’s also thanks, in part, to UNICEF support that a girl like Fanta can dream big dreams like these. In Senegal, only 15 per cent of girls are able to go on to secondary school and, later in life, there are only six literate adult women for every 10 literate men. Ndiarème B is seen as a model school for girls’ education in Senegal. It has successfully retained a relatively high percentage of its girls in school in spite of the pressures of society and of poverty - pressures that can convince parents to take their daughters out of school at age 11 or 12 to work as domestic servants, help with housework, or to be married prematurely. UNICEF and its partners have supported programs linked to this school and others in Senegal that encourage girls to get an education.

When the colourful flag arrives in Japan, with its messages from the girls and boys of Ndiarème B, Rama hopes that a girl her age will read her personal message: “I encourage her to stay in school,” she says. “If she works hard at school, she will become a good person. And maybe she will become a government minister, like I plan to be.”



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