In South Sudan, there is no shortage of children; young girls and boys who will one day lead their country and, together with their peers across the continent, all of Africa, towards a bright future. For this compelling reason, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) took the opportunity to celebrate on 16 June, the Day of the African Child, in various locations.
This year, under the theme ‘The Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment,’ the peacekeeping mission’s Radio Miraya station continued its tradition of marking the day by inviting 16 students aged between 13 and 18 from three schools to take over the airwaves for the day.
Sixteen-year-old Josephine Nyagoa Biel was one of the fortunate few. Included in her participation was an UNMISS return flight, all the way to Juba from her home in Bentiu and back – but only after enjoying a weekend in the capital. It was, however, her experience in a radio studio more than any big city glamour that left her in awe.
“I never imagined that one day I would be live on Radio Miraya FM, talking about the challenges of growing up far away from Juba and at the same time the hopes we have for a better South Sudan”, said Josephine, who also took to fielding questions from listeners calling in as your average duck takes to water.
In fact, so spellbound by the thrill she was that Josephine believes she found her future calling.
“The moment we went live, I realized who I wish to be when I become an adult. I want to be able to speak up on behalf of girls who are not going to school and who are forced to get married at a very early age.”
Some of her thousands of listeners were more glued to their radios than others. None more so than Nyindiang Doup Choul, Headmaster of Josephine’s future alma mater, the Liech Primary School in Bentiu.
“To be honest, it is the first time I hear about the Day of the African Child being celebrated. Today, our Nyagoa (Josephine) is making all of us proud, and from now on we will make sure to find suitable ways to commemorate this day every year,” he said.
And so, one is led to believe, will many a Radio Miraya listener. From across the country, they kept the calls to the station coming throughout the day, asking for more of the same.
“Their response was quite something. In fact, we received multiple requests to have children on air as a regular fixture, with some also suggesting that we pair up our staff presenters with boys and girls during school holidays,” Patricia Okoed, the UNMISS radio producer in charge of the happening, revealed.
Demand for more attention, participation, and opportunities far surpassed supply in Torit as well. In the Eastern Equatorian capital, UN Volunteers joined hands and won hearts by marking the Day of the African Child with a visit to Hope for South Sudan Orphanage School.
As part of their voluntary social responsibility initiative, they arranged sports activities, outdoor games, a quiz on the peacekeeping mission’s mandate and a session on the importance of personal hygiene. Before leaving the joyous children and grateful staff, and to make sure the impact of the day will be long term, the UN Volunteers handed over an assortment of grains and planted fruit trees at the venue.
Schools and their students took centre stage in Wau as well, when the peacekeeping mission’s Child Protection Unit there highlighted the strength and rights of African, and indeed all other, children.
A town-wide cleaning campaign, with special attention paid to areas adjacent to learning facilities, was brightened up with drama and musical performances, a tug-of-war competition, and sports activities. The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) contributed by giving students a potentially lifesaving mine awareness session.
While not lifesaving in and of themselves, learning opportunities are both critical and at the heart of the Day of the African Child. The day was instituted in 1991, by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity, in a bid to honour the memory of a student uprising that took place in Soweto, South Africa, on 16 June 1976. One of the issues they were fighting for was adequate education for all.
Forty-seven years later, the Soweto protesters would have been bound to agree with Patricia Okoed’s assessment of the impact of Radio Miraya being handed over to children for a day.
“Listening to the children’s experiences of different degrees of hardship, talking frankly about their right to go to school, their everyday lives and challenges, not to mention everything they want and hope for, was a real eye-opener for both listeners of all ages and these fantastic children themselves. I couldn’t have been any prouder of them,” the seasoned producer and UNMISS staffer said.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).