Bringing the stories of Malawi's girls to the US
I am Cecelia, 16, from Malawi and a champion for girls rights on health and education. I believe that girls deserve opportunities to reach their fullest potential. I talk to leaders in my community and my peers about girls needs and rights. I want girls to stay in school and complete their education and to see harmful cultural practices that lead to early marriage and teenage pregnancy to end. I desire to become a doctor to serve and inspire young girls.
I was selected by Save the Children to represent girls from Malawi and the region in New York and Washington DC to talk about our lives and advocate for them.
8 October 2019
The long awaited trip to the United States finally arrived. I was so excited and looked forward to my first experience on the plane and to explain to them [immigration officers] about my mission in New York.
After landing in New York, we checked in and went on a small tour around New York City. I saw Time Square and Central Park and they are really beautiful! Back at the hotel, I met Anxhela, another girl champion from Albania.
10 October 2019
That night I kept waking up not believing I was actually here. I prepared for the day and went to the Save the Children offices to meet Anxhela and others.
We got a briefing on the Child Safeguarding Policy and the UN and then we went to UNICEF offices for a panel discussion on Preventing Families from Separation and Protecting the Rights of Children Without Parental Care. A young girl panelist impressed me for ably expressing herself. I rehearsed more to do the same the next day.
11 October 2019 – Event day
Today I have my first big task here in New York, I was going to speak at the annual Girls Speak Out at the UN headquarters. We walked to the UN building and went through security checks. We each got a t-shirt for the event and we rushed to the washroom to change.
As guests arrive I felt a little nervous. I scan the crowd trying to locate my chaperone, Alinafe, who I spot smiling at me and I happily wave my hand to her.
The program starts and girls narrate their country stories that affect them such as trafficking, teenage pregnancies, early marriages among others. My turn came to tell the Malawi story: Everyone is listening attentively as I tell them what to be a girl in my country means, issues affecting my fellow girls and I ask for support from government, policy makers and my peers to work together in order to bring change in the lives of many girls. I also spoke about the work I do in my community to promote girls’ health, particularly girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs, so that they are able to stay in school.
I get an applause from audience to which I acknowledge with a smile. First task successfully accomplished!
12 October 2019
Today’s event is “Bridge the Gap for Girls” and we are at Brooklyn Bridge. Everything is colourful here. Cameras are everywhere and it seems everyone wants to take pictures of me, Anxhela and Karen-another girl champion from Peru.
Save the Children US CEO, Carolyn Miles officially opens the meeting and she invites us to the stage. Karen goes first to give her remarks and I am next then Anxhela. I talk about girl’s health, and emphasize that if girls are given opportunities they can reach their full potential. Next, we cut the ribbon to mark the beginning of the bridge walk. We all walk across the Brooklyn Bridge which is very long and beautiful.
14 October 2019
Monday morning we reach Washington DC and more activities are lined up. I am excited and I look forward to going to Capitol Hill and meet many important people.
15 October 2019
Today I am part of an all-girl panel discussion at the Senate House with Anxhela, as well as Fatima and Vishwa, two other girl champions supported by Plan International. Somehow, I am nervous yet confident that I will deliver. I spoke about the importance of girls’ voices and the meaningful participation of girls in policy spaces. I got good feedback after my speech.
I met some members of the Congress and my message to them was that most girls don’t get to finish school due to teenage pregnancies and child marriage and this is a situation that needs to change.
16 October 2019
My advocacy journey here is almost reaching the finale but not until Anxhela and I have participated in a breakfast round table discussion with the women caucus at the Capitol Hill office. What a rare chance to meet and interact with women leaders. I was excited to receive any pieces of advice they would give to a young girl like me. I feel very happy after the meeting as I have learnt a lot from this encounter.
Finally, we meet Congresswoman, Lois Frankel in her office. Talking to her directly about my work and then asking for support for my fellow girls back home and across the region makes me feel like I am doing real advocacy. Mission well accomplished.