Video credit: Eva Gilliam
The Forum of Hope is over, but actually it has only just started. In the words of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, who discussed with the children on 31 May and 1 June: “This Forum is only the point of departure, I have great faith in your potential!”
Organized in Burundi, the Forum gathered children from seven African countries, including several ones that are usually linked to trouble, rather than hope, in the public opinion: DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Sudan, South Africa and Zambia. The 52 participants aged between 13 and 17 years, are lucid of the challenges that their countries face, yet they did not come to Burundi to complain, but to discuss concrete recommendations for peace back home. “We are patient. They may send us away once, twice or thrice, but we won’t tire until the adults in charge will have listened and taken action.” Explained Romance, 14, from DRC, Katanga province, when asked if she actually believed that children can make change happen.
The seven girls and eight boys, from the heart of Africa, represent all eleven provinces of the giant country of DRC, which has been agitated by conflict and poverty for the past two decades. Reaching Kinshasa and Bukavu, the two cities from which travel was supposed to continue to Bujumbura was an endeavor in itself and every child has another adventure to share when we finally meet. From cancelled flights (“we arrived at the airport, but they told us that the flight crew was sick”, Eunice, 14), over corruption (“there was another passenger who paid the double of the ticket price so they took him and ignored my reservation”, Herve, 17, Oriental province), to misplaced priorities (“I had a reservation but the flight administrator attributed all seats to the Peacekeeping troops that were supposed to travel too”, Norbertine, 15, province) and so forth….The third episode inspired Deo, 16, from Bandundu province, to write a blog post for our DRC Team Blog Po na Bana: For Peace we are ready to go the distance concluding “In this country do we give priority to peace through weapons or through dialogue?”
Every delegate has safely reached his or her home province after the Forum. All of them are inspired from the exchange with their peers, each of them ready to move forward, beyond borders. Elected democratically by the Forum as ‘Peace ambassadors’, four of them – from DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan – will present the Forum’s final declaration at the meeting of the International Conference of the Great Lakes (ICGRL) in June in Kinshasa, DRC and at the Heads of State meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in July.
To ensure follow-up of the children’s recommendations, and continue the dialogue between children and policymakers, different tools such as UReport, social media, and radio will be used. For extensive coverage of the Forum, and real-time updates on the next steps please visit the inter-country platform http://childrensforumofhope.tumblr.com/.
The wind of change is young, and it is ready to blow. Stay posted!
Chief of Communication, UNICEF DRC/Kinshasa