Tag Archives: activism

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Five female activists to take over UNICEF’s Twitter for Day of the African Child

UPDATE 16 JUNE: Read each individual story from today’s Day of the African Child Twitter Takeover:


unicef tt_cropEach year, June 16 is celebrated as the Day of the African Child. Since the first time it was observed in 1991, the day has been an opportunity to focus on the challenges facing the continent’s children and youth, but also a chance to recognize how children and young people themselves are working to address these challenges and how they contribute to peace, growth and development.

In that spirit, we’re incredibly excited to announce that for this year’s Day of the African Child – which focuses on the issue of child marriage – for the first time ever, we’ve invited five inspiring young women to take over our Twitter account and share their stories of overcoming struggle and fighting for the rights of others.

Each of the women – who are aged between 22 and 31 and come from Chad, Sierra Leone, Niger, Uganda and Somalia – will spend an hour tweeting from @UNICEF, recounting their personal experiences and answering questions from our Twitter followers. Some will be sharing their stories for the first time in such a public forum; collectively they all want to inspire action to end child marriage and other child rights violations.

Here’s how you can get involved

Starting at 7 am EST/ 11 am GMT, every hour on the hour until 12 pm EST/ 4 pm GMT, each young activist will be given the reins to the global UNICEF twitter account.

You can read their powerful personal narratives by following tweets on the UNICEF account or by following the hashtags #youthtakeover and #endchildmarriage (You don’t have to have a Twitter account to do this!)

We invite you to retweet their words to spread their messages even wider, and to ask them questions about what motivates their activism and what they believe to be the biggest challenges and opportunities for Africa’s children and young people.

At the end of the day, we’ll capture the entire experience on Storify and make it available for all who won’t be able to make it on the day.

Who will be taking over @UNICEF on June 16?

UNICEF twitter takeover

Jennifer (centre of photo, wearing print dress)

‘Jennifer’ (24) from Uganda: At the age of 13, in December 2002, ‘Jennifer’ was abducted from her home in the middle of the night. She and her five siblings were sleeping when they heard their names being called and saw soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) flashing lights in their eyes. She and the other abductees were forced to walk until they reached a town called Kitgum. From there, they were taken to Sudan, where the Jennifer and the other girls were ‘given’ to different commanders, who became their ‘husbands’. After a number of years, she escaped captivity and returned to Uganda, and she is now living with her daughter. Jennifer’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Ilwad Elman.

Ilwad

Ilwad Elman (25) from Somalia: Ilwad runs the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu – Somalia’s first-ever programme to care for victims of gender-based violence, providing services in counseling, health care and housing for women in need. After her father, Elman Ali Ahmed, an entrepreneur and peace activist was killed during the height of Somalia’s civil war, Ilwad emigrated to Canada together with her three sisters and mother, activist Fartuun Adan. Fartuun later returned to Somalia and set up the Elman Center in honor of her late husband. In 2010, Ilwad also returned and has been working alongside her mother ever since. She also helps run Sister Somalia, a subsidiary of the Elman Center, and is active in many issues in women’s and children’s rights.

Josephine

Halima

Halima Laoual Bachir (24) from Niger: Halima was born and raised in Zinder, Niger, and studied in Dakar, Senegal. She and all of her siblings have attended school and graduated but many of Halima’s friends did not have the same fortune – they were taken out of school to be married at a young age. Although she did not share this fate, she is very concerned about this issue and every day endures social pressure from relatives and friends (not her parents or siblings) who question her decision to pursue school and build a career rather than becoming a wife and mother. Halima uses her personal story to advocate for girls’ rights to an education and an end to child marriage.

 Josephine Kamara

Josephine

Josephine Kamara (22) from Sierra Leone: Josephine started her advocacy work at the age of nine when she joined Peacelinks Sierra Leone, an organization that promotes peace and unity. She is also active in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and organized an awareness and testing programme at her university. Last year, she formed Women of Wonders Sierra Leone (WOW-SL), a movement targeting vulnerable young women in the country, including those living in poverty, those who are illiterate, school dropouts and teenage mothers. Through WOW-SL, young women learn skills such as handicraft, catering, music, and tailoring to help them make a living and become productive. Josephine is former Miss University 2012 and current 1st runner-up of Miss Sierra Leone 2014. Together with other WOW-SL members, she has recently embarked on series of Ebola response activities including raising funds and donating food and non-food items to child survivors and those who have been orphaned by Ebola. She is currently hosting a local television programme addressing issues affecting female children in Sierra Leone.

Mariam conductings an interview.

Mariam

Mariam Agrei Musa (31), from Chad: Born in Libya to Chadian parents, Mariam was raised in that country until she was 15-years-old. She then moved to Chad to live with her uncle but before she had finished school, at the age of 16, her uncle and the family in Chad arranged her marriage to an older man. Her parents, who were still living in Libya, were not informed and only found out on a later stage. Mariam fell pregnant and decided to escape the country as she wanted to continue with her education and did not want to be married. She left to Cameroon for 3 years, with a cousin, and after she finished high school she started her university studies. She also managed to get officially divorced. She decided to go back to Chad with her daughter and look for work. One day while she was at work, her ex-husband’s family took her daughter away because it is the tradition for the first daughter to live with the mother-in-law. In Chad, although the law protects children’s and women’s rights, the reality on the ground is different. Today Mariam is a women’s rights advocate.

Gerrit Beger is Senior Advisor on Social Media and Digital Engagement in UNICEF’s Division of Communication in New York.

All photos are courtesy of the Twitter takeover activists.

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World AIDS Day 2014: HIV and me

I am a peer counselor, and I have been HIV-positive for 6 years. In a way, I don’t see it as a bad thing, because I have learned to live differently, to be more humane and to improve my self-esteem.

When I was first diagnosed, it was something raw in my life. I did not know what to do. Back then, two things crossed my mind: Who do I tell? and, What will become of me? Carlos, a friend who is also HIV-positive, helped lift my self-esteem. I grew to understand that my fight was not against HIV; my fight was and remains to change social norms that will allow me to be seen as a person, free from shame, enterprising, and who is entitled to fully enjoy the same rights as any Ecuadorian citizen.

My struggle has been hard. For a time, when I first started treatment, the supply of antiretroviral treatment ran out at my hospital. We were asked to go to the hospital every day for just one dose, since we were not given a one-month supply as we should have been given. I had just started treatment and was tired of going to the hospital every day for just one dose. I lost my job because I spent so much time standing in long lines at the hospital, despite waking up early. It was intense, since the hospital attends all persons who come in from the provinces, who even slept there in hopes of at least getting treatment for two weeks.

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At the time, I did not know what activism was. I met a few people, among them my colleagues who continue to be activists. I noticed they pressured the director of the hospital to respond to this shortage through the media. It was then that I decided to approach the media, and I began to demand that the government provide treatment. Although the media knew they could not take our pictures because of confidentiality issues, local press took my picture without my knowledge or consent. This news and my picture were printed in the press. I became concerned because my health was at risk.

My family did not know my status. An aunt found out through the article published in the local newspaper that I have HIV. She began to tell everyone that I had AIDS; my neighborhood would have found out if I had not stopped her. Currently, only a few people know my status: my mom, who found out from my aunt, a cousin who I told because she is like my sister, an uncle and my grandfather. These last two completely discriminated against me, distancing themselves from my family and my home, telling my aunt, cousin and mom to distance themselves from me because I would infect them.

Second Decade

When my mom found out that I had HIV, it was devastating for her. She felt defeated thinking that I was going to die, that I could infect everyone in the house, and that they had to get urgently tested to see if they had AIDS, too. At that moment I did not know what to do or how to defend myself, but I found comfort in my true friends who work with me in the organization. I spoke with them about it, a team of three people whom I now consider more than friends, my family.

Thankfully, they helped me resolve the problem before more people found out. They came to my house to speak with my mom about HIV. They shared everything they had gone through living with HIV, and told her I was not alone since I had their support. My mom felt very comforted and supported after meeting them, and she accepted that I have HIV. She hugged me, cried with me, and told me to move forward with my life and not think of the bad but the positive, that I could count on her in everything and that she would always be by my side.

Foto encuentro

Participants at the first national meeting organized by the HIV-positive Adolescent and Youth Network, September 2014. © UNICEF LACRO/2014/Metellus

When I first learned of my diagnosis, I started volunteering because I needed to do something more. I eventually ended up in an organization where I met people who had already been living with HIV for many years, who shared their experiences with me and supported me. I felt the need to learn more about HIV, and in that way share with others people who are diagnosed with HIV. I strengthened my abilities over a long period of time by offering peer counseling during orientations, supporting persons living with HIV, disseminating information about HIV and their rights. Eventually, I became a part of the organization’s leadership, which allows me to promote the quality of life of other youth like me to empower them, impacting each and every one of their lives.

However, there is still discrimination because job opportunities are few. I have spent years leaving my resume in different businesses, filling all the requirements and having all knowledge needed for jobs posted. But, most of my experience has been related to HIV, performing jobs such as health education, health promoter, and facilitation skills, among others, that are on my resume. Although I try to mask this information, I end up having to explain the diplomas that I’ve obtained to the interviewer. I am often asked everything, and that is when I find myself under fire when I am asked the million-dollar question: are you a carrier? Sometimes I deny it, sometimes I do not, since I want to get the job. However, they just stare at me like I am strange and tell me they will call me. I know that answer very well.

All I can say is that a person who lives with HIV is a person that has a special health condition. This is part of my reality. Many do not know what the virus is; only a person living with HIV can best explain what it is. When I speak with peers, there is a chemistry between us where the other person takes away something from me, and I also take away something from that person. This is an experience that no one can understand unless they come from this world. I will continue to always collaborate with others as a peer counselor, learning more from each person. I consider myself like any other person; HIV does not limit or contain me. On the contrary, it motivates me because a health condition should not be a reason to discriminate anyone. What would I be without……
Humor Intelligence Life

Hector* is a member of Ecuador’s HIV-positive Adolescents and Youth Network and helps other HIV-positive youth as a peer counselor with Grupo F.A.V.U., an HIV/AIDS organization in Ecuador that helps other persons living with HIV/AIDS manage their condition and improve their quality of life. He shared his story with UNICEF during the HIV-positive Adolescent and Youth Network’s first national meeting, held in September 2014, ahead of World Aids Day 2014. Hector’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Eveliz Metellus, a UN Volunteer working with UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office’s HIV and AIDS Programme. The story originally appeared here.