Advisor's encounter with youth sparks discussion

Apr 25, 2017
By Mario Stephano; Edited by Leanna Cappiello

​“I was amazed to hear their stories and learn about the challenges and problems that children from Africa suffer,” says Mario Stephano, a World Vision Child Participation Advisor. He intended to meet young leaders from Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan.

Mario’s role includes promoting children’s rights and participation by guiding field staff to conduct peer initiatives. The primary motivation is to equip children with the skills and tools needed to achieve their potential and exercise their rights.

The Advisor was recently in Addis Ababa for the Pan-African launch of the World Vision campaign to end violence against children. During the conference, he was shocked to find out that some harmful cultural traditions are still in practice today. For example, female genital mutilation is still going on in Ethiopia. Mario says, “These challenges might be different from other countries and cultures, but in the end, they all turn around the same central issue: an extreme violation of children’s rights.”

Mario’s engagement on a personal level with these young leaders first-hand has opened his mind to better understand their views and aspirations, “how they embrace their situations and challenges and their dreams for the future,” he says.

“My experience has shown me that it is imperative to see that children, wherever they come from, share similar problems, issues and challenges,” Mario explains, “but at the same time, [realize] not all the children are the same… they are diverse by nature. Therefore, it is crucial to be mindful of the different cultures and backgrounds.”

Mario, in seeing how active, competent and inspiring these young African leaders were, was affirmed that the children are the best ones to understand the issues they face. Still, it’s unfair to assume that they are fully equipped to change them. “It is our responsibility to provide them with the skills, tools and information needed to engage in social change and influence others,” he explains.

The conference, put on by World Vision, was a clear reminder that children are passionate about their rights and need only be given a place to voice them. Mario’s encounter with the seven young leaders reminded him that young people have a lot to teach their communities. He says, “Young people have a strong voice, they can touch people’s hearts, they can make a change in their lives, and they can reach one of their greatest dreams: to stop violence against children.”

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