Sierra Leone’s Chernor Bah Challenges The UN On Millions Denied Education

27-year-old Sierra Leonean, Chernor Bah, has challenged the United Nations and other world leaders to step up their efforts in delivering quality education to young people of the 21st century .

He made this challenge in his speech at the launching of the latter’s Global Initiative on Education where he was recently appointed to serve in its steering committee on behalf of the young people of the world. Among those in the audience were the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Chernor Bah

Chernor Bah

Bah said, “ thousands of my friends, younger siblings, and millions around the world – a whopping 61 million are out of school. That is not right.”

Presenting a one million man signed petition from the youth the world over including what he describes as four basic and very attainable demands, he said, “the days of unfilled commitments that are not followed through are over.”

In his response, the UN Scribe said Chernor’s story brought back memories from his own past. He thanked him for a very inspiring speech and passionate call to action. He also called on the youth not to give up on hope and that they will be supported.

Below is Bah’s full speech:

“Thank you Mr Gordon Brown. Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honor to stand here today and represent the voices of millions of young people, to affirm our support for this historic initiative, and to stand with you. I am here today, because of an exceptional life journey, fuelled by the power of education. Born in the slums of Freetown, my childhood was defined by a brutal civil war, my schools were burned, my teachers fled for their lives, and I became a refugee. Yet somehow, with support from my parents – both teachers – and a few lucky breaks, I made it through school. Last year, I earned a Masters’ degree. I have a job and I have a voice, which I use to mobilize and stand up for the rights of other young people who do not have the opportunities and the breaks that I had.

I stand here today, because my story is the exception. And that is not right.
Thousands of my friends, younger siblings, and millions more around the world – a whopping 61 million are out of school. That is not right. And it is not right that if I were a girl, my chances of being here would be even slimmer. It is plain wrong that our generation gets deprived of the incredible potential of girls and young women to end poverty, because so many girls marry and start having children when they are still children themselves, instead of staying in school. And it is simply not right that being born in countries like mine, in rural areas, with disabilities or being part of a certain class, caste, ethnicity or even religion can mean that education is just a dream, rarely attained.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have the means to give every child the education they deserve. Not doing this is choosing to fail millions of children who depend on us to change their future. This is not the future we want! That is why today is such a historic day. Young people around the world congratulate you Mr. Secretary General for not only getting it, but for inviting us to partner with you to finally make the education dream a reality for all- to make the outcome of my story unexceptional.
Our call to action includes four basic and very attainable demands. First, we want universal access to consistent, inclusive and quality education as a guaranteed basic human right. In the 21st century, it is an outrage that this is still not the case. Second, we want education to prepare us for the job market -equipping us with relevant skills to earn a living and help build our countries and a better world. Third, young people also want education to prepare us as global citizens; promoting tolerance, non-violence and our comprehensive development as well rounded human beings.
And finally, we call for strategic partnerships, between private and public actors, to turn this dream into reality. Young people are keen to be part of this partnership, and I should let you know that the Youth Advocacy Group that has been set up to support this initiative and myself, and millions of young people around the world are this time going to be real partners in this endeavor- we will support you, mobilize our energy and resources and yes, we will hold you accountable for the promises and commitments you make. We all have to be in this together.
I will close now by thanking UNFPA for their leadership on youth participation and the other partners: the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, UNICEF, INEE and Plan International among others, who have been facilitating a meaningful and consistent youth participation in this initiative. No one deserves a bigger appreciation though today than you, Mr Secretary General, for today putting education at the top of your agenda. Sir, one of my favorite saying is that you never stand as tall as when you kneel down to help a child. You are a very tall man today and because of that, I know I speak on behalf of youth the world over when I say, we’ve got your back! Thank you.”

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