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Our promise to the world’s children

From Nelson Mandela

Nelson MandelaMy earliest childhood memories are of the village of Qunu in the rolling hills and green valleys of the Transkei territory in the south-eastern part of South Africa. Qunu was where I spent the happiest years of my boyhood, surrounded by a family so full of babies, children, aunts and uncles that I cannot remember a single waking moment when I was alone.

There was where my father taught me, by the way he led his life, the sense of justice that I have carried with me for the many decades I have lived. By watching him closely, I learned to stand tall and stand strong for my beliefs.

It was in Qunu that my mother gave me the stories that charged my imagination, teaching me kindness and generosity as she cooked meals over an open fire and kept me fed and healthy. From my days as a herd-boy I learned my love of the countryside, of open spaces and the simple beauties of nature. It was then and there that I learned to love this earth.

From my boyhood friends I learned dignity and the meaning of honour. From listening to and watching the meetings of tribal elders, I learned the importance of democracy and of giving everyone a chance to be heard. And I learned of my people, the Xhosa nation. From my benefactor and guide, the Regent, I learned the history of Africa and of the struggle of Africans to be free.

It was those very first years that determined how the many full years of my long life have been lived. Whenever I take a moment to look back, I feel an immense sense of gratitude to my father and mother, and to all the people who raised me when I was just a boy and formed me into the man I am today.

That was what I learned as a child. Now that I am an old man, it is children who inspire me.

My dear young people: I see the light in your eyes, the energy of your bodies and the hope that is in your spirit. I know it is you, not I, who will make the future. It is you, not I, who will fix our wrongs and carry forward all that is right with the world.

If I could, in good faith, promise you the childhood I had, I would. If I could promise you that every one of your days will be a day of learning and growing, I would. If I could promise that nothing — not war, poverty, not injustice — will deny you your parents, your name, your right to live a good childhood and that such a childhood will lead you to a full and fruitful life, I would.

But I will only promise you what I know I can deliver. You have my word that I will continue to take all that I learned in my earliest days and all that I have learned since then, to protect your rights. I will work every day in every way I know to support you as you grow. I will seek out your voices and your opinions and I will have others hear them too.

From Graça Machel

Graça MachelTo the children of the world, in whose name this report is dedicated, I would like to say this: You are my life’s work. Fighting for your dignity and freedom and protection has given the best of meaning of my life.

You and I may not know each other, but over the course of my years as a teacher and an activist, I have learned much about your lives.

I have seen how one year of school changes a child and how years of school transform that child’s future. I have watched as the power of education saved families from being poor, babies from dying and young girls from lives of servitude. And I have lived long enough to see a generation of children, armed with education, lift up a nation.

But at the same time, I have witnessed how quickly young lives and futures can be destroyed. I know that war, HIV/AIDS and poverty, though they hurt everyone, hurt children most deeply. I know that the safe havens for young people — your schools, your health stations — are invaded by thugs. I know that the people you treasure and depend on most — your parents, your teachers, your doctors and nurses — are the very same people who are targeted in conflict or cut down by AIDS.

I have been fortunate to travel the world, seeking out young people to hear of their lives and experiences and many of you have been kind enough to talk with me. I have heard you speak about how it feels to have war steal the ones you love and destroy your idealism and dreams. I have listened to many young women who could not get enough good food to eat, could not go to school nor get the attention they deserve. I know how the sting of injustice feels and the dull pain of realizing that life is not fair.

And so this is my pledge to you: I promise to work for your education so you can have every opportunity to know your history, to exercise your imagination, to write the stories of our peoples. I want you to know first-hand the freedom that comes with knowledge and learning.

I promise to work against war, against AIDS, against all the unspeakable enemies that would deprive you of your parents, your innocence, your childhood. I promise to challenge and plead and badger government leaders and business people until you can safely walk out of the door of your home to tend your flock or fetch a pail of water without fearing landmines or abduction or harm. And I promise not to rest until these things are the stuff of old fairy tales rather than your days’ reality.

You, dear boys and girls, dear young women and young men, are my most urgent concern. I know what it is like to be given the opportunity to excel in life, to be equipped to meet life’s challenges with a healthy mind and body, to be given the passport to freedom that is an education. I want you to experience all this for yourselves.

Joining our voices with the voices of children

From Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel

To our only children,

We write to you as a mother and a father, as grandparents and as great-grandparents, as politicians and as activists. You are the focus of our outrage, just as you are the focus of our hope. You are our only children, our only link to the future.

Each one of you is your own person, endowed with rights, worthy of respect and dignity. Each one of you deserves to have the best possible start in life, to complete a basic education of the highest quality, to be allowed to develop your full potential and provided the opportunities for meaningful participation in your communities. And until every one of you, no matter who you are, enjoys your rights, I, Nelson, and I, Graça, will not rest. This is our promise.

Please hold us to it.

Nelson Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is the former President of South Africa. Graça Machel, a UN special expert on armed conflict, is a former Minister of Education in Mozambique. Together, they lead the Global Partnership for Children.



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