10 April 2014: Burundi’s orphans now have access to free schooling thanks to the efforts of Salathiel Ntakirutimana and his fellow youth advocates. Here he shares his story – one of a number of inspiring case studies highlighted in Plan’s youth advocacy toolkit, which launches today.
Early this morning I read the ‘Do-It’ section of the advocacy toolkit produced by Plan in partnership with the UN Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group and A World At School to support young people in their efforts to advocate for education. It was a great way to start the day! I was extremely impressed by the content and the youth-friendly manner in which it was presented.
When I started advocating for education I was a 15-year-old and had very little resources at my disposal. Consequently, my friends and I experienced tremendous challenges when we were planning to mobilise orphans in Burundi. Had we had this advocacy toolkit, I am sure it would have been much easier to achieve the impact we did!
Standing up for orphans’ education
Despite the numerous challenges we faced, we knew we had to help decrease the difficulties orphans faced in accessing education. My friends and I had a common understanding that education was the only way out of the poverty for us and thousands of children like us. We began to see a trend in orphans being expelled from schools as they could not pay their school fees.
After surviving the unspeakable issues of the civil war that prematurely orphaned us, the last thing we expected was to be forced out of school - our only hope for a better future, by those whose job was to help guarantee a better future for us.
The remote locations of many orphans’ schools exacerbated the unacceptable treatment we received since few of the local residents, let alone the students and teachers, were willing to challenge their headmasters or hold them accountable for their actions.
“Stubborn little kids”
Eventually, my friends and I figured we could not let the people in power write off our future. We decided to organise our fellow orphans to challenge our school and local authorities to guarantee our fundamental right to education.
In a culture where youth are considered too immature to make good judgment, our challenges ranged from lack of family support in some cases to discouraging actions from displeased authorities.
For example, one day a headmaster we urged to recall the orphans back to classes asked us to “stop behaving like stubborn little kids who failed to understand the realities of the world”. However, we refused to budge since it is these “realities” we were challenging!
President heeds our wish
Eventually, we mobilised orphans from the whole country and sought recognition from the Ministry of Interior. After long negotiations with members of the government of Burundi, the President heeded our wish and signed a decree allowing all orphans to go to school for free! I am proud that this, my story, is included in the new toolkit, so other young people can learn from my experience.
Having experienced severe challenges in my advocacy experience, it is encouraging to see organisations work together to support and strengthen young people’s advocacy work.
As a member of the UN GEFI YAG, I have outstanding support from Plan International who, for example, organised lobby meetings with the Burundian Embassies in both DC and New York, where I got to directly lobby people who can make decisions which put more children into school and learning.
When I read the ‘Do-It’ section of the advocacy toolkit, I liked the way it breaks down the strategies young people may follow to lead impactful advocacy campaigns. For example, it informs young people on how to influence policy and decision-makers. Ultimately, decision makers are the ones in position to effect change. Equipping youth with state-of-the-art knowledge on how to work with and influence them is key if we are to achieve outstanding results in youth-led advocacy campaigns.
To get the 57 million children across the world who are missing out on primary education into school and learning, more investment in advocacy tools will need to be made.
Furthermore, more support for grassroots campaigners will be needed from organisations and all individuals around the world. I hope others follow Plan’s leadership in empowering young people to change their lives and communities through education.