A screenshot from the second session of the 2020 Virtual Advocacy Summit.
“Here I am, a girl from a small country, sitting here and believing in better future. And I truly believe that we will make our future better by talking about our problems, by finding solutions and by really acting.”
These powerful words from Save the Children Girl Champion, 17-year-old Nina from Armenia, opened up the second session of the 2020 Virtual Advocacy Summit and set the tone for the evening.
Save the Children President and CEO Janti Soeripto joined another Girl Champion, 16-year-old Elena from Nicaragua, and Emergency Team Leader for migration and COVID response for Save the Children Colombia, Valerie Dourdin, for a conversation about the impact the pandemic is having on the global community – specifically children.
Sadly, the virus has resulted in devastating consequences for children in countries throughout the world. These children, many of whom faced increased poverty and vulnerability, have had their lives interrupted. Parents and caretakers are falling ill, and many children are experiencing learning loss due to school closures. Girls in particular are at increased risk for education loss, increased gender-based violence, and early marriage.
The Reality for Families and Children
Janti started the conversation off by asking Valerie to describe the challenges families and children are experiencing in Colombia. Valerie mentioned that in addition to Colombians, many Venezuelan refugees in Colombia are struggling with the crisis. These asylum seekers can’t social distance and experience xenophobia and a stigma that they are “carriers” of the coronavirus. She also mentioned that many parents aren’t able to secure a paycheck and feed their families. Finally, many do not have access to health care or the health care system – which is more dangerous than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Janti and Valerie went on to discuss the efforts that are happening at every level to help assist these families and children in need, and encouraged viewers to act in their own right by sending a message to the U.S. Congress asking for robust funding for foreign assistance. This funding would help boost health infrastructures during the virus. It would also help children continue to learn while schools are closed, address gender-based violence and prevent hunger and malnutrition.
Hearing from a Girl Champion, Elena
Once people had taken action, Janti turned the conversation back towards gender equality. She asked Elena how Nicaragua is promoting gender equality and girls’ empowerment, and how Elena herself has used her voice to raise awareness about issues facing girls.
Elena flagged how many children are avoiding school, due to the increased risk of the virus. Similarly, many parents aren’t going to work for fear of catching COVID-19, which has increased poverty and made families and children more vulnerable. Many girls do not have access to the internet, she said, and therefore don’t understand the severity of the crisis. Girls are also less likely to return to school because they have to work to help the family make money, or they marry young. But, as Elena said, with advocacy we can help these girls and these children continue their education, avoid harmful outcomes and stay healthy and happy in their communities. The first step is to listen to and understand their needs.
“We all have the right to be happy and that is why our opinions need to be counted,” Elena said. “We need to express what we want, and our greatest dream is that we will be heard.”
Though we know that the COVID-19 crisis is far from over, this session ended on a hopeful note. Each participant shared what they hope for the future. They all hoped for a brighter world for the next generation, where children have equal access to opportunities that will help them thrive. As Nina said in the beginning, we all have a role to play to making that dream a reality. If we search for solutions and act on them, she said, we can make a huge difference. And, according to Elena, it’s never too soon to start!
“I have always wanted my voice heard, even when I was a little girl,” She said. “That is what brought me to this organization: to participate and to have a voice. I was 8 years old when I started.”
Want to watch the full conversation? View it here >>