The first appointment we had on our first full day in ‘The Big Apple’ was with the Deputy UK Ambassador to the UN, Philip Parham. We had three main talking points from the youth outcomes document that we wanted to address including girls, children with disabilities and the global lack of trained teachers.
We discussed the 1.7 million professional teachers needed with him. He said that, like us, he feels that a proportion of the UK’s international aid should be targeted at training more teachers so that the quality of education and learning can rise.
Next, we wanted to talk to him about the amount of girls who miss out on an education. We told him of what we had seen in India; sometimes girls miss out because of their culture or due to them being pulled out of school as they are being sexually teased or harassed. Again he was supportive of our cause and explained that the UK government is trying to support 1 million more of the poorest girls in school through the Girls’ Education Challenge. This is an initiative that calls upon national government organisations (NGOs), charities and the private sector to find better ways of ensuring girls receive a quality of education and transform their future.
He was keen to say how important the British government was in working towards progress on education. This week, the UK government has reached their commitment of 0.7% of GNI on international aid. This, he thinks has given the UK soft power within the UN to take leadership in achieving the promises made at the Millennium.
Finally we expressed our concern about the education of children with disabilities. We felt very strongly about this issue as we had met the inspiring young campaigners from Leonard Cheshire Disability the previous night. We communicated the stories of Markson and Andira who did not only face access to education as a barrier but also the quality of education they had once they received one. Mr Parham explained that this was also an issue close to his heart as one of his children has a disability. He also said, we need to disaggregate the figures to make sure that more children are accessing education across all groups of society as an education for all really should mean an education for ALL.
Next was our Youth Orientation session that had the purpose of firing everybody up ready for Malala Day tomorrow. It was great to finally get into the UN building and while lining up to pass through security it was really nice to talk to other campaigners from all around the world!! Once in the orientation session the atmosphere was great with everyone chanting. Chernor Bah, the Chair of the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) led the session and got everyone in the mood by calling out , “I say Malala, you say Day’ then everyone would chant ‘Malala’ ‘Day’, ‘Malala’ ‘Day!’ We split into small groups and had discussions about what inspired us to come to Malala Day and campaign for education for all.
Next we discussed and put forward ideas of how to sum up the need for education in one line. Lastly we came up with commitments for education, which the best would be said in the main Malala Day event tomorrow. The session ended with a hot seat between 2 influential people where questions could be fired at them. This orientation session was fantastic to meet and have discussions with other young people, cant wait for Malala Day tomorrow.
We were privileged to meet Zarmina Rasouli, a young Afghan woman who joined us in our hotel and talked to us about being a girl in Afghanistan. As we expected, it had been very difficult. The five years of Taliban rule saw the erosion of many rights of women (and men) n the country. Women were often confined to their homes and girls were out of school and many of her friends had been forced to marry young.
We learnt that while many of her friends’ parents left the country for Pakistan, her parents remained in Afghanistan. This was the first time she mentioned her parents. They were critical in her life story. As she couldn’t leave her home, this meant she couldn’t continue her education.
Despite these risks, Zarmina took the risk and mustered up the courage to return to school in 2005 to complete her 12th standard education. Even when studying, she wanted to do more and she joined a local group ARU (a partner of Action Aid) as a social organiser during her summer holidays. She also joined Action Aid in mid 2005 as a volunteer.
We heard she is now doing a degree in Business accounting while working as a Provincial Manager for ActionAid covering in 288 villages. She works in the most marginalised communities where there are specific problems relating to women and children. Her example has motivated many girls to come out of homes and go back into education, and as a result of Action Aid’s programme, more than 300 girls have completed 12th standard.
When asked why she withstood the pressure from the Taliban, she credited her parents. Zarmina’s Dad, when asked whether he wanted Zarmina to marry, he replied, “No, you will have to kill me first.” She also spoke about the importance of Action Aid’s work that was different in towns and rural areas, and about network groups and practical actions that help get children into school.
We found her story of perseverance very moving and very much hope we will be able to meet up again tomorrow, on Malala Day.