By: Lekpele M. Nyamalon
This year’s June 16 will mark 26 years since the Day of the African Child started being celebrated, and 41 years since the tragic event occurred in 1976 known as the infamous Soweto Uprising.
The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the then OAU (Organization of African Unity), now AU (African Union). It honors those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 on that day. It also raises awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children. The theme for this year’s Celebration is ‘The 2030 Agenda for sustainable Development for children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunity. The child friendly version is ‘Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030.’
Hector Pieterson, the famous school kid who was fatally shot, remains the symbol of the number of youth killed that day when tragedy befell protesting young black students, and is by extension one of the horrific reminders of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Today, the journey of the African child remains challenging with several issues across the continent ranging from poor education, inadequate health care delivery, poor sanitation, girls’ harassment, use of children in conflict, etc.
On behalf of my foundation, Africa’s Life, I will have the honor of speaking to a cross section of students at the US Embassy in Monrovia, commemorating the Day of the African Child. I will ask them to answer three questions about themselves, and hopefully, will have a better insight into reclaiming the vision of the African child everywhere.
The first question will be, ‘Who are you?’ As young Africans, every child of Africa should understand that they are the crux of the continent’s hope, the crème de la crème of the future. Africa has been referred to as the world’s youngest continent with Africa’s population being the youngest among all the continents; the median age in 2012 was 19.7, when the worldwide median age was 30.4.
With that population and adequate preparation, the youth of Africa will shred the skies and become the torchbearers and the realization of the hope of their forefathers.
Second question is, ‘What do you have?’ Every youth of the continent has something, some talent, some gift, some inspiration, and some story that sets that apart. Identifying that intrinsic gift within them will take them places, open doors and create a sense of purpose for life.
Thirdly, ‘How are you going to use it?’ How the youth decide to use the talents buried within them will ultimately determine the outcome of the talents, gifts, inspiration or drive they have to uplift themselves and change the story of their individual journeys.
Every African child must be able to answer these questions soberly and with deep reflection; this will set them apart and cultivate a mind of leadership, character, strength and patriotism.
In January this year, I authored and had the honor of presenting a paper at the Liberian Development Conference organized by USAID, Embassy of Sweden and other development partners. The crux of my presentation was ‘Rising Together-Road Map for Youth Empowerment in Liberia.’ That paper highlighted the opportunities that avail themselves when the youth are allowed to use their individual skills set in nation rebuilding. Youth with skills in Music, Poetry, Arts, Sports, etc., should be allowed to express themselves fully in a society that recognizes their individuality and brings them to the table to become meaningful contributors.
In my message to students, I will highlight excerpts of my recent book of poetry, Scary Dreams (An anthology of the Liberian Civil war) – a collection of poems that tells a story of the Liberian civil war. Part 3 of the book talks about ‘Stolen Innocence.’ This was a period during conflict when children lost their innocence to drugs, crimes and guns. Young boys became child soldiers and young girls were raped and became early mothers. Most of these children lost their innocence forever. The hope of these children can be revived in the lives of other African children who answer those basic questions about themselves.
I urge every young African to heed to the laments of the theologian Meville B. Cox, ‘Though a thousand fall, let not Africa be given up.’
Doing so will ensure that student Hector Pieterson did not bleed and die in vain and the souls of young people who lost their innocence during conflicts can live again.
God bless Africa!
About the author: Lekpele M. Nyamalon is an award winning Liberian poet, writer and Pan Africanist. He is the author of two collections of poetry. His recent volume is ‘Scary Dreams: An anthology of the Liberian Civil war.’ He is the founder of Africa’s Life: An afrocentric youth based foundation that inspires youth through motivational speaking and arts& culture.