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The Day of the African Child Focuses on Children With Disabilities

Risaki from Samburu community with bad legs they said he will be a burden it is a shame to the family. Father and mother hide him in the cowshed. No school for him. No medicine even shoes for the bad legs. He can not grow. Why? Why? Why?

So writes 17-year-old Risaki, in his short story entry for a competition being held as part of this year’s Day of the African Child June 14-16. Joining children from across Africa, Risaki will travel from his home in Kenya to the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to participate in the competition, a panel discussion and other activities to honor the Day of the African Child. He is among several whom ChildFund is bringing there from Angola, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia.

The date on which the Day of the African Child takes place marks the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising in 1976, when 10,000 students marched in protest of South Africa’s requirement that children be educated in English and Afrikaans rather than their native languages. Hundreds died in clashes with authorities. Every June 16 since 1991, the Day of the African Child has convened representatives from African Union states, development organizations (including ChildFund) and others to address the rights of children throughout Africa. ChildFund’s Executive Vice President for Program, Isam Ghanim, sums up the day’s purpose: “The Day of the African Child reminds us of the right of children to make their voices heard and express their aspirations, concerns, and perspectives about their current situation and future.”

Woman standing, boy in wheelchair, both smiling
In Zambia: Getting his first wheelchair through ChildFund made it possible for Netsai to attend school for the first time at age 12.

The theme for this year’s event is “The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill.” It was chosen by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) because, according to their statement, “children with disabilities are generally hidden in Africa, and therefore their plight is often ignored and disregarded in national policies and legislation.” The arts competition, with art, essay and poetry/short story categories, is centered on the theme, as well.

Risaki, a sponsored child, has experienced some of this marginalization firsthand, because he has club feet. Luckily, he only had to imagine the worst of what he wrote for his story, because of the understanding of his parents (his father is also disabled) and his involvement with ChildFund. He is in his last year of primary school and loves running and playing football. When ChildFund staff took Risaki to process his passport for the trip to Ethiopia, his mother was visibly excited: Not only was her son able to travel from his pastoralist community in Kenya to visit the capital, Nairobi, but he will also fly to Ethiopia!

The Day of the African Child will be a remarkable opportunity for Risaki and his peers from around Africa to raise their voices within a forum of policymakers who are there specifically to hear them.

Jane’s Poem

Jane, 16 and sponsored, lives in an urban slum in Kenya. Now in her second-to-last year of high school, she is also excited to travel to Ethiopia to participate in the Day of the African Child. She loves writing, and it shows in her haunting submission for the poetry competition:

Atapim was born in war.
He loses his sight before he could see,
He loses his legs before he could walk,
He loses his hand before he could touch,
He loses his teeth before he could bite,
Disability was everything to him
and he was everything to disability in him

When we eat we hide him
When we were traveling we left him
When we shared some jokes we despised him
When we watched our nature we rejected him
When we were reading we spat on him
Ohh Atapim—He wondered
He scavenged for food when we threw it
Disability was everything to him
and he was everything to disability in him

We never knew that
Atapim had rights like ours
He should learn like us
He should eat like us and with us
He should travel like us
He should crack jokes like us
He should be given shelter just like us
He should be loved like us
Ooh my Atapim,
Disability was everything to him
and he was everything to disability in him

We should report those who hide Atapim
We should report those who hate people like him
We should report those who spat on people like him
We should report those who despised people like him
Oh, my Atapim
Disability was everything to him
and he was everything to disability in him

After all, this Atapim was not his wish or his plan
It was not his ambition to be born this way
To live in this miserable life
If disability was a coat I would take it off

“The Day of the African Child reminds us of the right of children to make their voices heard and express their aspirations, concerns, and perspectives about their current situation and future.”

— Isam Ghanim, ChildFund Executive Vice President for Program

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