Thursday, June 16, 2011

International Day of the African Child

By Andrea Brovold, CTI Program Manager

Today is International Day of the African Child, a day commemorated every year on June 16, when in 1991 thousands of South African children marched and hundreds died in Soweto demanding the right to be taught in their own language. This year, on the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, the African Union is calling attention to the 30 million “street children” who live across the continent.

Westerners who have traveled to developing countries have probably encountered child beggars on the streets. "Street Kids" are plentiful in Senegal and Mali, around every corner you turn. These children end up on the streets because they were never given a chance for a childhood or an education. Some street kids are recruited by terrorist organizations; they are required to bring back 50 CFA daily, and if they don't bring back their daily allotment, they are beaten.

Since returning from West Africa this past winter, these are the beautiful faces both haunt me and push me to do the work we do at Compatible Technology International. Though many of Africa’s children are born into poverty, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have every opportunity to flourish.

While providing grinder training in Senegal last November, I met Roykia, a bright eyed energetic 11 year old girl. Though many of the other villagers were hesitant to use what must have looked like an odd, foreign machine, Roykia jumped right in and instructed the others, “We want finer flour, tighten the wing nut!” The grinder in that village is now used daily, allowing women to easily produce fine flour and peanut paste. The women are able to grind in 5 minutes what would have taken them traditionally in a mortar and pestle 45 minutes. Roykia’s community now have the opportunity to spend their free time and extra income pursuing educations or starting businesses—all because of the initiative of an 11 year old girl. I look forward to returning to her community on behalf of NCBA/USAID again this winter to continue our efforts in West Africa.

When you think of African children, it would be easy to conjure images of desperate, malnourished children with swollen bellies—the images we’ve all seen on television. But on this day, I will remember the beautiful, strong, determined children who should be proud to be Africa’s future.

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