This article is published in number 21 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until May 24, 2022
There is something deeply romantic about the image of a camel who, together with a white-haired man walking on foot, rests his hooves on arid and thirsty ground, carrying two wooden crates full of books on his back. Two hundred to be exact. We are in the Somali region of Ethiopia, and this is the image of literature that anything can. Those books, which until recently were paper and subject to deterioration caused mainly by climatic conditions, have now become tablets that contain many more texts. They are transported on the backs of twenty-one camels and reach thirty-three of the most remote villages. They arrive in the hands of twenty-two thousand boys and girls who, if necessary, can recharge the digital media thanks to the solar panels that the camels ensure on their backs, together with the teaching material, a proof of the strength of education and the will to Save the Children – the organization that for over a hundred years has been fighting to save girls and boys at risk and guarantee them a future – which since 2010 has managed a library that was previously fixed and now mobile.
The white-haired man is called Hassen Ali Jama45, and one of the community volunteers, regularly paid by the government and trained by Save the Children to help children learn to read. Hassen spends between fifteen and twenty five days carrying around the digital library, stopping for two days within each community. Then, she rests the camels for three days and leaves. When he arrives in the villages, he finds a very large group of boys and girls of different ages waiting for him. They await him as you do with the teacher on the first day of school and run to meet him, spreading their arms. Then they patiently wait for Hassen to sit down and start distributing the tablets. Among the first girls there is always Mahadiya, 14 years old, and a dream kept in the curiosity that his dark eyes give off: to become an engineer.
“I love camels very much. The main reason I love them more than any other animal is that they naturally have the ability to withstand drought, they provide us with milk and we use them to carry heavy loads. ” Today they also carry books. “During the pandemic, the camels allowed us to continue learning and studying. This made me happy. I feared that with the schools closed I would forget everything. I was afraid of not passing the end-of-year exams, of not being able to continue my studies ». For Mahadiya, the covid also meant seeing her family face severe financial difficulties and miss the guaranteed school meal every day. “Our grocery store has greatly reduced sales, and we have lost part of our livestock due to the drought.” Mahadiya often helps parents in the store, but there is one thing she loves to do more than anything else: take the tablets from Hassen, sit in a circle with her five younger sisters and her brother and read to them. “I learn a lot of new things by reading the storybooks that the camel library brings. My favorite is Egal Shiidaad. He tells how to protect children from wild and domestic animals that can be dangerous. The other one I love is Nadafeda. I like it because she has given me a lot of advice for personal and environmental hygiene ». Mahadiya has also become the protagonist of one of the fairy tales collected on tablets: Mahadiya and the camel. “Seeing my story written and illustrated was a real surprise. An emotion that I did not imagine. I felt proud of having been chosen to become the narrator of a fairy tale that tells of the importance for us to read ». For Mahadiya, fairy tales are playmates. He questions them and listens, as Petrarch wrote, imagines their infinite destinies in distant and unknown countries. She travels with them while remaining seated next to her brothers. She forgets for a few moments the difficulties of the present: the fear of the virus, the lack of water. Along with Mahadiya, 13-year-old Nassir also waits weekly for Hassen and his mobile library. “Now that the books are digital, I am no longer afraid that the wind will tear the pages away or that they will be eaten by animals, as has happened to me sometimes”. In Ethiopia, due to the pandemic, 26 million children have stopped going to school. It means greater exposure to violence, child exploitation, extreme poverty. “Some of my classmates have completely dropped out of school and have become shepherds. Others have begun to go into the bush in search of firewood ».
As with Mahadiya, many families are doubly affected by the pandemic in Ethiopia, made fragile by the virus and extremely vulnerable due to the increase in the price of goods. In these villages, Save the Children has launched a further project, funded by the European Commission, for directly support families with food and basic necessities. In addition, it helps schools by providing additional materials, creating corners dedicated to reading and guaranteeing meals in twenty-six realities of the region. A relentless commitment that over the years has seen a noticeable increase in the rate of education within primary school and the awareness of parents of the importance of having their children attend classes. «For me, reading is the key to knowledge and I don’t want to stop doing it. It is my way of continuing to dream and repeat myself: one day I will be an engineer ».
Mahadiya is the voice of all children thirsty for books, eager to know. The momentum is the same at every latitude and longitude, the opportunities are different. She is educational poverty which Save the Children has opposed since the beginning of its mission. Like “the lack of the possibility on the part of boys, girls and adolescents to learn, experiment, develop and let skills, talents and aspirations flourish freely”, underlines Daniela Fatarella, director general of Save the Children. It is closely linked to economic poverty, affects all countries of the world and has found nourishment in the pandemic. Also in Italy, as shown by the data collected in schools that document a significant decline in pupil performance in 2021, which goes hand in hand with the impoverishment of part of the population. In 2020 alone, children in absolute poverty have become 1 million and 346 thousand.
The right to education, educational and economic poverty will be among the topics touched upon in the extraordinary event organized in Rome by Save the Children from 19 to 22 May: IMPOSSIBLE 2022. The young people will be protagonists in meetings and workshops with special guests who will propose and discuss concrete interventions to overcome the ever deeper inequalities caused by the war, the pandemic and the climate crisis. Because saving children is possible. As the founder of Save the Children pointed out, Eglantyne Jebb: “It’s only impossible if we refuse to do it.”
It is important to choose to “do”
Is it really impossible to save children’s lives? Or is impossible just what we choose not to do? It starts from here, quoting the founder Eglantyne Jebb, the event IMPOSSIBLE 2022, of which Vanity Fair is media partner. Building the future of girls, boys and teenagers. Now organized by Save the Children in Rome from 19 to 22 May. At the center will be children and the challenges to be overcome to protect their future. War, pandemic, climate change, poverty, resources will be the main issues addressed in the debates. On the 21st and 22nd the stage will be for the boys with the realization of the Youth Movement Festival for Save the Children in Ostia. In parallel there will be a real online schedule. Info: savethechildren.it/impossibile2022.
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-Isabella Ragonese: “You are the revolution”
-Save The Children, the event Impossible 2022: “We do not refuse to save children”
Source: Vanity Fair