You can do things that matter if you care about something
Napoleon was convinced that every soldier carries the marshal's baton in his knapsack. What about the pupils? Don't they all also carry a leader's outfit in their backpack? How do we make sure they wear that outfit? We could start by paying more attention
Maria-Alexandra Stoica is a teenager from Coada Malului, a village in Prahova with a population of less than a thousand people. Like most people, the notion of public speaking makes her anxious. But that hasn't stopped her from sitting face-to-face with Romania's president, government and EU officials. In doing so, she has inspired children at home and abroad to fight for the right to be heard.
It took a lot of work and support, especially from the UNICEF team in Romania, for her to get the courage to speak up for herself. "Many of us feel we are too small, and it makes us shy away from being responsible. I had to fight to make peace with myself, to overcome the fear of making mistakes, so that later I could work with what I had on the outside."
A key event in Alexandra's life and transformation was her involvement in a project developed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), through the Minister-delegate for European Affairs, and UNICEF in Romania, where Alexandra became Romania's Junior Ambassador to the EU and later a member of the Romanian Children's Board. UNICEF is also a promoter of children’s rights to being heard and their views to be taken into account, as laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. "This experience has given me courage and helped me to see that I have something to learn from everyone who crosses my path."
A key driver for those who get involved, like Alexandra, is care. "My parents taught me to put my heart into it," she says. Caring about others has been the core of her intense volunteer work, and the choice to take part in an extra-curricular debate and argumentation programme organised by the "Social Education Association". The latter enabled her to structure and present her ideas about Human Rights and the role of involvement in society strongly.
One message she would like to convey to adults is the importance of listening. "Listening is just as important as the support we get from adults, whether we're talking about family, school or society. Children are not just plants to be cared for, but people, with their own opinions, who feel and think, just like an adult does."
Drafting the Bucharest EU Children's Declaration, the world's first document in which children ask European leaders to consult and involve them in making decisions that impact their future, was another valuable experience for Alexandra. "I then worked with a very diverse group of children from different regions and backgrounds. Even though we had little in common, we identified what we each wanted. The common values and principles we discovered formed the basis of these beautiful friendships. It was also here that we learned about teamwork, which is more difficult in practice than in theory."
Over time, Alexandra has gained confidence, and lately she has noticed how positive self-awareness inspires those around her. "Each one of us can become, even without wanting to, a mentor, for someone else, by passing on personal experience, or the confidence gained." Recently, a child wrote to her, confessing that she wished to be like her. Afterwards, the author of the message worked with Alexandra in several volunteer projects. She also helped set up a local structure at a school in Ploiesti last year, talking about the organisations she discovered, such as the Students’ Council.
Alexandra dreams that in the future more and more children are brought up thinking that they can, too! "I would like to see young people and children more involved in what is happening around them, in voting and in the community. The way things are moving, I think all this will happen."