“As young people preparing to become responsible future leaders, we are ready to disseminate the knowledge and skills we have gained to our peers and collectively seek the respect of human rights that directly or indirectly affect children and adolescents.”

Sulayman Sabally

On the 17th of November in the community of Sutukonding, a youth participant in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), Sulayman Sabally, delivered a manifesto on behalf of Gambian youth to the Chief of the Wuli West district, Alhagie Kemo Jatta. The manifesto called for the support of family members, communities, organizations, and local and government authorities to protect children’s rights – including the right to survival and development, basic education, equality in higher education, and protection against all forms of violence.

This ceremony was the culminating event in a week-long caravan during which over 250 youth participants travelled to six communities in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia to raise awareness of children’s rights. In each community, caravan participants gave speeches and performed skits about issues facing young people in the URR, such as child/forced marriage, female genital cutting (FGC), drug and alcohol abuse, and inadequate access to education. Each host community organized ‘Cultural Nights,’ allowing participants to showcase their positive traditions through dance, song, and storytelling.

After travelling in 13 vehicles from Tabanding, Boro Kanda Kasse, Limbambulu, Jagajari, and Kerewan, the caravan marched to the residence of the District Chief on Saturday morning. Tostan The Gambia National Coordinator, Ansou Kambaye, opened the ceremony reiterating the objective of the caravan: ‘to create an environment where youth, families, and authorities can raise awareness about children’s rights and encourage support in helping youth realize their dreams and become responsible citizens and future leaders’.

During the  ceremony, youth participants took turns speaking about the issues that affect their lives in their local languages of Mandinka, Fula, and Serehuleh. Metta Sawaneh spoke about the human right to education and the importance of sending girls to school; Bintou Touray spoke about the human right to a clean and safe living environment; Muhamed Sillah spoke about the importance of protecting children from abuse; and Bubacarr Baldeh spoke about the health effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Following these presentations, participants performed a skit addressing the health implications of FGC.

This year’s Youth Caravan was attended by several government and civil society organization representatives, including the Chairperson of the Basse Area Council, Omar Ceesay, URR Youth Coordinator, Musa Jarra, Ward Councillor, Saiba Juwara, and Child Welfare Police Officer, Lamin Kebbeh. Representatives from the National Environment Agency, Independent Electoral Commission, Regional Health Team, National Army, WASDA, NAYAFs, and local and national media were also present. For the first time, the year’s ceremony was broadcasted live on two local radio stations.

After receiving the manifesto, Wuli West District Chief, Alhagie Kemo Jatta, thanked Tostan The Gambia and its partners for what he called great work with positive impacts on the lives of his people. He encouraged Gambian youth to be responsible, hardworking, and determined, and said that their efforts would be supported by all.

The slogan of each annual Gambian Youth Caravan is kalong ka baara, meaning ‘practice what you know’ in the West African language of Mandinka. This year’s 4th Annual Gambian Youth Caravan gave young people, families, communities, organizations, and governments the opportunity to recommit to this promise and pledge their support in the promotion of children’s rights in the year to come.

To view more photographs from the 4th Annual Gambian Youth Caravan, click here!

Photographs taken by Edrisa Keita, Assistant to the National Coordinator at Tostan The Gambia, and Elizabeth Loveday, Regional Projects Assistant at Tostan The Gambia.