Children are vulnerable by virtue of their age which makes them dependent on adults for basic needs. For the African child this vulnerability is aggravated by numerous challenges, ranging from wars, harmful cultural practices, defilement, effects of HIV/AIDS and poverty. As a result many African children find themselves living abusive and oppressed lifestyles.
The African culture greatly values children as the future generation. Children are celebrated and parents take pride in them. However, the oxymoron is that traditional African culture had little or no regard for children’s views and opinions – they were subjects of adults, rendering them voiceless. This is changing though gradually, because most African countries have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children and the African Charter of the Welfare and Rights of the Child. They have proceeded to domesticate the provisions of the two international legal instruments by enacting national laws that protect the rights of children – in Kenya the Constitution and Children’s Act. These legal instruments strongly emphasis that children have the right to participate and their input on issues that affect them should be considered at all times.
In implementing the right to participate Action for Children in Conflict (AFCiC) through his child led school advocacy programme is equipping children with the requisite information and skills to enhance their involvement in influencing policies and actions that impact on their lives. It is a platform for children to raise their voices for a clarion call in order to bring change in the education sector. Increased visibility of the challenges faced by children is positively impacting on access, equity, relevance and quality of education.
AFCiC is using a three-prong approach that is incorporating: pupil advocacy clubs, participatory action research and teacher training. The children are organized into pupil advocacy clubs through which they are receiving training on child rights, group dynamics, leadership skills and life skills with an emphasis on nurturing their critical thinking, problem solving, negotiation and communication skills. The pupils are acquiring skills that are enabling them communicate their issues in an appropriate manner.
Participatory action research with children is being strengthened by equipping the pupils and teachers with data collection, analysis and report writing skills. The pupils now have the skills to analyze challenges and identify the core problems that need to be addressed. This is resulting in administrative and policy decisions that are responsive to the real needs of the pupils.
Alan is a twelve years old boy who sits in Gatunyu Primary School management committee, a few months ago, neither Alan, nor the teachers and the board members would imagine a situation where a pupil would be part of making decisions pertaining to the management of the school. The participation of Alan and Jane who represents the girls in the school committee has greatly enhanced the ownership of all programmes in the school by the children. It has been noted that the pupils are on time, their hygiene practices have improved greatly, there are less disciplinary cases and the support accorded to other pupils has increased. Furthermore, there is increased interaction between the pupils and the pupils through the improved communication and confidence generated from the sessions held in the schools. This positive change is evident in almost all the schools where the clubs are implemented and it is expected the leadership development will translate to better results since the class attendance and retention has improved greatly
Equally important in the involvement of the advocacy club in the local community social issues, the pupils are able to conduct weekly outreach visits to families that are needy, the elderly and youth groups to give them varied support and attention. This serves to motivate other young people from neighborhood to take their position in society, children lead the way is making our communities better by sharing good health practices. It has been observed that the teachers have a very strong positive impact on the children and a good motivated teacher makes the pupils stronger, confident and owners of the school and the neighborhood. Truly the voiceless have made a voice and a forum to advocate their issues, the advocacy clubs are the foundation upon which the future of a health prosperous Kenya is being built