How a rusted and worn chair gave birth to an advocate
by Hannah Weintraub
My first taste of activism came when I was nine years old. I was sitting in a giant circle on the cracked basketball court at my summer camp. In the center of the ring of people stood a rusted and worn chair. Each person at my camp would have the opportunity to exclaim his or her concern just by standing up, walking to the center of the basketball court, and touching the chair. Once someone's hand graced that beat-up seat, the circle would become silent, awaiting the problems that the speaker would address.
I sat nervously, scared by the older and "cooler" kids around me. I had issues on my mind: the girls' bathroom didn't have any paper towels and it seemed like no one cared. All I needed was to muster the courage to touch the chair.
Finally, I garnered that bravery. "I-I-I," I stammered, "I think we need more paper towels in the girls' bathroom!" I wasn't a shy kid but speaking to such a large group made me anxious. I awaited the response; a few snaps meaning, "I agree," broke out in the circle. To my surprise, several days later paper towels filled the empty dispenser. My nervous attempt at speaking out had paid off.
Although it seems small, having this platform to work for change was empowering. It was incredible to know that if I spoke others would listen. However, around the world, this freedom to speak out is not as easily granted.
Last week, I met youth education advocates from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo who overcame wars, refugee camps, loss of parents and spotty educations to demand that their fellow peers received the schooling they deserved. The student from Burundi lobbied for and eventually passed legislation that would grant orphans the right to an education. The other started his own education non-profit and now studies at Harvard. When all I have to do to exercise my voice is type a few words and click, "share" on Facebook, these students' accomplishments pose the question: Am I - are you - doing all that we can?
Around the world nearly 61 million children do not have access to a basic education. Without the ability to read or write, many of these children have had their voices involuntarily silenced. This week the Global Campaign for Education is asking that all of us who have the freedom to speak our minds take responsibility over this inexcusable situation. We must demand that all children in our global community receive the education that they are entitled to.
Learning of the ills of the world and not seeking change is an insult to those with fewer resources and more to lose who are still working for justice. I am immensely fortunate to have the ability to close the newspaper and forget all of the problems of the world. Yet, the bravery and dedication of the students I met and the many others like them make it impossible to ignore their plight. I have no limits on my voice, yet so often I am scared to use it. These students show that there is no excuse for inaction. Apathy can no longer be an option.
Although my setting has changed, I still feel that nervous, nine-year-old feeling when I am faced with the opportunity to voice my concerns. It takes effort to feel confident enough to speak up. We all have these fears and concerns yet we no longer have the luxury to stay silent. It is our responsibility to walk up to those chairs, look out at the circle of people around us, and take action against the wrongs in our world.
Hannah Weintraub is a high school student at Montgomery Blair High School and is also the communications intern at Global Campaign for Education-US chapter.
To join Hannah in giving a voice to those that are often silenced, visit our Global Action Week site to find out how you can Act for Education.