When I think back to my school days I picture my attempts to bend the ‘school uniform’, endless reams of revision flash cards and my friend firing an eraser off the end of his ruler into our teacher’s coffee cup (true story). But beyond the funny memories, it can be easy to forget the power and privilege of receiving an education.
In the words of Nelson Mandela ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’ For thousands of people across the globe, education doesn’t just offer greater opportunities, but a vital escape from the cycle of poverty. This year as the theme of International Youth day is ‘Transforming Education’, we’re focusing on two young people who are doing just that.
A powerful voice
For hundreds of children in Zambia accessing school is hard. There are limited places, a lack of staff, and fees that not all families can afford to pay. The drop out rate from primary to secondary school is high and the poorest, most vulnerable children often miss out.
Ray and his friends, a group of ordinary teenagers from a local church in Zambia, saw the problems surrounding education and decided they couldn’t just sit back. So they became part of the solution by joining an initiative called the Junior Parliament. Started by Tearfund’s partner the Jubilee Centre, the Parliament provides leadership and public speaking training, and equips young people to advocate and campaign about the issues that matter to them.
‘When there are wrong things happening in our nation and nothing is done about it, it’s young people who suffer,’ explains Ray. ‘Junior Parliament was created so that young people could have a say in developmental issues that affect them.’
Access to education is high on the agenda for the Junior Parliament. They decided to organise a debate to discuss the issue and invited local Government representatives and decision makers. A month later they secured funding for new classrooms at a local secondary school for children living with disabilities. But it doesn’t stop there. With a passion to see orphans and vulnerable children with access to education, Junior Parliament raised their voices again. After organising another debate, local school fees were lowered and over 280 children receiving support and funding from local authorities.
Ray and his friends may seem young and inexperienced, but God is using them to transform education in their communities.
‘Being part of the Junior Parliament has helped us to believe in ourselves, that we can make a difference in our communities and our nation at large.’
Changing the story
5570 miles away from Zambia in the Cambodian city of Poipet, Tearfund Go volunteer and trainee teacher Grace Merriweather was also witnessing the power and freedom of education.
After leaving school in Glasgow, Grace decided she wanted to take a slight detour before uni. She ended up spending six months working and living alongside local communities and schools in Cambodia. Grace saw firsthand how education was breaking the chains of a dark and often hidden story. The story of human trafficking.
‘For a struggling family, children can become a valuable commodity,’ explains Grace, ‘human traffickers claim that selling their child offers an escape from poverty – their child will get to live a better life too, across the border.’
‘The reality is that they have sold their children into even greater poverty. Not only are they unlikely to earn any money, they’re also likely to lose their freedom, health and wellbeing.’
Fortunately Tearfund partner the Cambodian Hope Organisation (CHO) is helping to write a different narrative. By offering training, education and support to local communities, they provide a more secure future and route out of poverty. Through volunteering in CHO’s community schools, Grace was able to share her skills and be part of their incredible work. She found herself helping to educate families in Poipet about the lies that traffickers sell.
‘Education is precious for the children enrolled at CHO’s schools. It can lead to skilled employment, higher wages and a future that can lift whole families out of terrible poverty. CHO offers families the chance to gain good, lasting livelihoods and brighter futures.’
Play your part
Stories like Ray’s and Grace’s are inspiring reminders of our ability to change the world, no matter what our age. So what will you do to join them? Whether you volunteer overseas, get entrepreneurial, fundraise or join a rubbish revolution, you can leave a positive impact for years to come.
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