I began writing this article on June 16, which is the Day of the African Child. The day honors the students who participated in the Soweto Uprising, who on the morning of 16 June 1976 filled the streets of Soweto protesting against the decree that created a shift from Afrikaans to English as their medium of teaching in their major subject. The uprising was a great show of passion and solidarity. The students understood the value of their education and were not willing to let anything get in the way of them getting the most out of it. They let their voices be heard.
There’s a kind of magic that comes with being a child: less fear and more optimism, less judgement and more love, less worry and more laughter. Children tend to take life as it is; as a result, life is simpler than it seems to be as you grow up. As they grow up, the ways of the world start to wear off this magic. As family, friends or even as just members of the society, we have a duty to prevent this magic from fading away.
Every human being has dignity, an innate, inherent value, from conception to natural death. We have the responsibility to ensure that every child we come into contact with feels that they have value and that they are a gift to society by virtue of being a part of our world. We must dispel the notion that children should be seen and not heard. Children have hopes, dream, opinions and ideas. Their voices must be heard. Like Dr. Seuss noted, “a person’s a person no matter how small.”
I am proud to be African. My siblings and I have grown up in an environment where, in addition to our extended family, all our neighbours and parents’ friends were our aunts, uncles, grandmothers or grandfathers. We respect them in the same way we do our kin and they treat us like their own children. Here, it indeed takes a village to raise a child. Everyone is concerned about the children, as they grow up. Growing up in this way greatly helped me to understand and tolerate the difference in people’s cultures and beliefs. I knew from an early age that this aunt would be offended if I did this or that, and that this uncle’s religion did not allow him to do that. The attention and respect they gave me as a child made me recognise that I was worthy of respect and that I was important. I remember running to the house of one of my neighbors every so often because I needed help with my Kiswahili homework. As I grew older, I turned to them not only for help in my homework, but also in greater things.
Where the voices of children are not loud enough we must raise ours in chorus with theirs. This need not be done through protest. We can do this simply by strengthening the family, which is where the children first learn to respect themselves and others. We can also actively participate in activities that help increase children’s access to quality education, healthcare and other basic needs. It indeed still takes a village to help children grow into responsible and respectful members of the society. In the words of Dr. Seuss “I’ve got to protect them, I’m bigger than they.”
By Anne Wanjiru Mwangi, an advocacy intern at WYA Africa, from Kenya