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Sierra Leone’s Chernor Bah delivers call to action at Education First Initiative

Sierra Leone’s Chernor Bah delivers call to action at Education First Initiative

September 26, 2012 – Following the Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown at the launch of the Education First Initiative at the UN, 27 year old Sierra Leonean, Chernor Bah, who is currently Youth Advisor for the sporting outfit Nike, and based in Ethiopia, and who was recently appointed by Mr Ban Ki Moon to serve on his high level steering committee for his Education First Initiative, delivered a call to action from youth around the world.  Following is his message as delivered:  (Photo: Chernor Bah)

It is an honor to stand here todaynd represent the voices of millions of young people, to affirm our support for this historic initiative, and to stand with you.  I am here today, because of an exceptional life journey, fuelled by the power of education.  Born in the slums of Freetown, my childhood was defined by a brutal civil war, my schools were burned, my teachers fled for their lives, and I became a refugee.  Yet somehow, with support from my parents – both teachers – and a few lucky breaks, I made it through school.  Last year, I earned a Masters’ degree. I have a job and I have a voice, which I use to mobilize and stand up for the rights of other young people who do not have the opportunities and the breaks that I had.  I stand here today, because my story is the exception.  And that is not right.

Thousands of my friends, younger siblings, and millions more around the world – a whopping 61 million are out of school.  That is not right.  And it is not right that if I were a girl, my chances of being here would be even slimmer.  It is plain wrong that our generation gets deprived of the incredible potential of girls and young women to end poverty, because so many girls marry and start having children when they are still children themselves, instead of staying in school.  And it is simply not right that being born in countries like mine, in rural areas, with disabilities or being part of a certain class, caste, ethnicity or even religion can mean that education is just a dream, rarely attained.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have the means to give every child the education they deserve.  If we do not, we are knowingly, even deliberately, choosing to fail millions of children who depend on us to change their future.  This is not the future we want!  That is why today is such a historic day.  Young people around the world congratulate you Mr. Secretary General for not only getting it, but for inviting us to partner with you to finally make the education dream a reality for all – to make the outcome of my story unexceptional.

Our call to action includes four basic and very attainable demands.

First, we want universal access to consistent, inclusive and quality education as a guaranteed basic human right.  In the 21st century, it is an outrage that this is still not the case.

Second, we want education to prepare us for the job market -equipping us with relevant skills to earn a living and help build our countries and a better world.

Third, young people also want education to prepare us as global citizens; promoting tolerance, non-violence and our comprehensive development as well rounded human beings.

And finally, we call for strategic partnerships, between private and public actors, to turn this dream into reality.

Young people are keen to be part of this partnership, and I should let you know that the Youth Advocacy Group that has been set up to support this initiative and myself, and millions of young people around the world are this time going to be real partners in this endeavor –  we will support you, mobilize our energy and resources, and yes, we will hold you accountable for the promises and commitments you make.  We all have to be in this together.

I will close now by thanking UNFPA for their leadership on youth participation and the other partners: Brookings Institute Center for Education, UNICEF, INEE and Plan International among others, who have been facilitating a meaningful and consistent youth participation in this initiative.

No one deserves a bigger appreciation though today than you, Mr Secretary General, for today putting education at the top of your agenda.  Sir, for standing up for us, for sowing the seed for a better future, I know I speak on behalf of youth the world over when I say, we’ve got your back! Thank you and I am now honored to officially present you the YOUTH CALL TO ACTION ON EDUCATION!

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