When children speak, we should all listen. Gambia's Child Protection Alliance (CPA) believes this. So much so that they created a youth group called The Voice of the Young. A group that strives to empower young people to use their own voice. CPA's mantra is that children make the best advocates for themselves because they are the ones experiencing the hardships that face them. It is not adults but children who understand what is really like to get hit at school for acting out (corporal punishment is not illegal here), and it is children that really know what the problems are. This mantra has become the cornerstone of CPA's Voice of the Young where young people advocate on their own behalf and on the behalf of the children of The Gambia to improve the conditions they face.
I was fortunate enough to attend a monthly Voice meeting, and I was blown away by the passion and dedication of the members. These are the kind of kids that could be told "no" time and time again but would never stop. Kids who will change the world. I was awestruck by the organization of their meeting, run entirely by the youth themselves with officer reports from the governing body. I felt more like I was sitting in my sorority chapter meeting with 80 twenty-somethings rather than in an outdoor tent with 40 Gambian children. And whats more, Voice's projects and activities and campaigns are astounding!
Every week Voice sends a panel to the local radio station for their own radio show allowing all of the nation to hear, loud and clear, what they have to say. They discuss the real problems they face everyday as children growing up here. Issues of abuse and sexual exploitation and trafficking, issues of violence, things that I know very few of my friends had to worry about at their age. And these children, who are clearly victims in a world that should protect them from such evils, face them head on ready to combat them and pave the way to a better tomorrow for their own children.
Voice works to make changes on the issues that are important to them. Their plan for the next year consists of the following: secure free airtime for Voice broadcasts on the radio, review the child act in the constitution and ensure that it is being fulfilled, and campaign for a Ministry of the Child. They hope to spend the next year meeting with government branches, all the way up to the president, to ensure that the protection of children is a priority. They hope to push the president to establish an independent Children's Ministry whose sole focus is the rights of the child. They are real movers and shakers who, I have no doubt, will accomplish all they set out to do. Children are powerful. We should all stop and listen for a second and really hear what they are saying.
For more information of The Voice of the Young and CPA: