"The future is in your hands. And the future is now."
A Message full of positivity and encouragement from Aliou Cisse, coach of the Senegalese national football team, to children and young people after a meeting with young changemakers in the Tambacounda region.
Tambacounda (Senegal), February 8th, 2023 - On a field mission with the UNICEF team in southern Senegal, I had a great opportunity to meet with a group of about thirty adolescents and young people who have warmly welcomed me under a tarpaulin in the departmental centre for social action in Tambacounda for a discussion on the challenges they face and the solutions they propose to overcome them.
The tone was set by young Mohammed, president of the advisory council of the youth department of Tambacounda, who brilliantly facilitated the session. "We are today in front of a success story. I can't believe I am standing in front of you "coach". Thank you again for bringing us this trophy," he said. "I'm moved, I don't know what to say. All this is very emotional and right now, all I want is to give you a hug?"
Immediately after, I got up and held him in my arms, from there I knew that the session was going to be filled not only with emotions but also with authenticity.
These children and adolescents are fighting daily on the front lines to promote their rights and that of their peers, and particularly their rights to live free from violence, exploitation, and abuse. With UNICEF's support, they host educational talks in their communities, have been trained in child self-protection, actively participate in community dialogues with their elders, parents and community leaders, or host radio programs to encourage a positive conversation around children's rights.
The discussion began with poignant stories of children and adolescents who are victims of all forms of violence. That of a girl sent to a village to undergo female genital mutilation, street children who woke up at six o'clock in the morning and return only at midnight forced to beg in the street, children given in marriage by their parents, children who suffer physical violence in their own homes, children without birth certificates and forced to drop out of school, children being abused by their own tutors, children forced to work, exploited in drugs sale, and many other situations that are sometimes simply unimaginable.
Ndeye Fall, an 18-year-old activist for girls' rights in the town of Tambacounda, has repeatedly spoken about the unequal treatment between boys and girls. "The role of girls is to take care of the house, do household chores, wash clothes, fetch water, but not at school... That is what some girls are going through," she said. "We are the ambassadors of tomorrow, which is why we insist on sharing with you the reality of these children. With your voice next to ours, we can amplify the message and accelerate change."
As we listen to their testimonies, we must feel our growing responsibility to meet their demands, given the urgency with which they demand a better future. We must work to bridge the gap between everything we imagine for children and everything we have not yet been able to achieve for them. I was proudly impressed by the way they advocated for the issues that mattered to them. I was there first and foremost to listen to them, and their hearts spoke authentically.
"Here is the reason why I am here today: to listen to you, to listen to what comes out of your heart, and you've expressed it authentically. The more authentic you are, the more control you will have in your own future. The rights you are asking for, the country is working on them, the partners are working on them, and I am working on them.
"You have the capacity to transform difficult situations into positive opportunities, you have demonstrated your will and your ambition to move things despite all the difficulties you face. Continue to believe in your mission, in your dreams, in your ambitions, the sooner you know what you want, the sooner we can help you pave the way to get there.
"At your age, at 17-18, I was told that I could never be a footballer, let alone be a professional footballer. To me, these people were neither God nor Prophets. I continued to believe in my dreams, and I worked on them for years and years. Among my awards, I signed for one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. And I brought the Africa Cup of Nations trophy to Senegal.
"On this journey called life, there will always be difficulties, there will be people who will continue to discourage you, but as long as you believe in yourself, you can succeed.
"Don't expect unanimity to move forward. Whatever the challenges you are facing, you always have a choice: give up or keep fighting for your dreams. And as soon as you make the choice to fight, it's already a step to win. And you're going to win."
All of us: the adolescents, the young people and myself came out of this meeting reenergized and with a lot of positivity, and a desire to do more. And for me particularly, a responsibility also to relay the voices of these children and young people.
UNICEF is not alone in advocating for children's rights. I am not alone in supporting efforts to promote children's rights. Fortunately, today we can count on an extensive network of organizations and individuals, including children and adolescents themselves.
The more people we have onboard, the greater chances we will have to make the rights of children as described in the Convention on the Rights of the Child a reality for every girl and boy in Senegal.
Notes to editors
In 2022, thanks to UNICEF's support:
2,836 children who experienced violence, including sexual violence (1,264 girls and 1,572 boys), had access to services in 2022
More than 90,000 people strengthened their skills in preventing, detecting, and reporting violence against children by participating in community dialogues
More than 50,000 people were engaged in community dialogues for the abandonment of female genital mutilation and the empowerment of girls.
More than 20,700 professionals from various sectors were trained on child protection prevention, detection, and case management related to the protection of children.