“From my heart, I measure, I flower I give.” Those were the words coming from Grace Achilla from Bishop Abiero Secondary School. What are we giving to every child and youth in Kenya this World Childrens Day? Most importantly, their rights. Every country has an obligation to ensure that the children and youth are catered for, that they are not left behind by inequalities including but not limited to lack of education, lack of skills, early marriage and lack of proper health care.
The theme for this year’s World Childrens is #GoBlue. Why blue, you may ask. Aside from Blue being UNICEF’s official color, it signifies unity, hope. The world will join hands this year to visually go blue as a reminder that the rights of children must be enforced. Blue reminds the world that children and youth are talented and confident and can reach their fullest potential given the right opportunities and safe spaces. This is also a chance to remind children that in as much as they have rights, they also have responsibilities. As a result, they must be nurtured to be obedient and to take care of themselves. This can be done through sexual and reproductive health care education, life skills education among others.
“The thing that motivates me to work hard is knowing that I can be a great person,’ said Henry Odero from Magadi Primary school during the introduction session of the Kisumu County Childrens workshop. The kids were briefed on the challenges that children go through. However, this was a chance for them to also talk about the challenges they go through. One child joked that he wished he had a secret super power. He wished that he was as strong as superman. “If I was superman, older boys wouldn’t bully me. There was a time they beat me up and I couldn’t defend myself,” he explained, bringing to light on issues of violence in schools, which are supposed to be safe havens for children.
Jackson Onyando, a HIV specialist with UNICEF Kenya gave an interesting presentation on rights and challenges that are directly linked to adolescents. What surprised those who were in attendance was the high number of teenage pregnancies. Where the perpetrator of teenage pregnancies is an adult, it is often easy to determine their fate. No adult is allowed to have a sexual relationship with the child. However, it is always difficult to know what to do when a teenager falls pregnant and the father of the child is also a teenager. In this case, both children need to be advised on how to take care of the child. It is also important to ensure that both do not drop out of school to find work to cater for the child.
A simplified version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was also a key part of the workshop. This is because many children are not aware of what their rights are. Even worse, many of them have a distorted version of the rights. At lunch time, I had a light conversation with them and one of them jokingly said, “If I fail in my national exams, I will not proceed to get further education. Some parents are strict. We are just squatters at home.” I was saddened by this revelation. I tried to convince him that this shouldn’t be the case, I’m not sure I succeeded. Educators and parents need to know that educating a child is not doing them a favor, it’s not just charity work, it’s a right. When a child lives at home and asks for food, to play and a place to sleep, they are not asking for a favor. They are asking for what rightfully belongs to them.
This year’s theme is on wholesome education. We went through the rights together and eventually asked the children to narrow them to three rights that were either directly or indirectly linked to education. The children were also asked to state how the rights are protected and how they are violated. While engaging a child, it is important to use unique styles to harness all their attributes. Creative thinking is a key component. A group of children drew the world with black borders. “Our world has black borders because many children are still facing challenges and being discriminated. However, we added blue on the inside with children walking on top of it. Blue represents hope and light. We believe that through children, our world can go blue and overcome the dark parts,’ explained 11-year-old Jeanatte Lilian from M.M. Shah Primary School.
“Is it possible for a child to perform well in their studies and talent wise?’ Asked Daisy Serem, Communication Officer at UNICEF Kenya who was facilitating the workshop. This was answered through a skit by children which told the story of a school boy who was consistently performing poorly. On asking him what he wanted, he said he wanted to be a musician. “Education and knowledge is important. Your talents are also important,’ expounded Jeanette Lillian. Gloria Okeyo from Xaverian Secondary School and Achilla Grace from Bishop Abiero Girls reiterated the statement.
“If you marry Mr. Otieno, we will have cattle and food,” says a persistent mother to her child. “No mama, no papa, I want to go to Alliance Girls High School. I scored 395 in my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. Please let me go to school,” cries a disheartened child. An understanding of early child marriage came out of another skit by the children. Many children miss out on secondary and university education due to poverty and a lack of understanding of the importance of education. “Teach a child to fish for a lifetime. Every child should be allowed to have an opportunity to get an education to build their own future,’ said 15-year-old Brian Omondi from Nyabondo Primary School.
There is a need for children to have the chance to tell more and more children about their rights. We had a blue canvas where the children were painting their messages for other children. Color is in everything you touch. As they went home, they kept asking when we would have a similar event for more children. “Children shouldn’t give up on their dreams and they should put God first,” that was their message to the world.