The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram could have chosen many things to wage war on. They chose education. In particular, girls' education. Terrorists of all stripes -- from the Taliban of Pakistan to Boko Haram in Nigeria understand that they only prevail when they keep girls out of school. Young people around the world are responding in a defiant manner: mobilizing for education in a way that has never before been seen and calling for world leaders to respond urgently to the global education crisis. Young people understand that the best investment in our future is education -- and as Malala said at the first Youth Takeover in New York last July, the weapon the terrorists fear most is a girl with a book. We are calling on governments to step up their efforts in this fight for our future.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, has repeatedly called attention to the global education crisis that the world faces. On the eve of the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, 57 million children are still out of school and over 250 million young people cannot read a simple sentence. Last week, UNESCO released a report highlighting that in the midst of this crisis, progress in education has stalled in the past few years and worst of all, education funding has been in decline. Meanwhile, the forces of ignorance have accelerated their attacks on education. From Syria to Pakistan, South Sudan and yes Nigeria, education has been under attack and millions of children are at risk of missing out on what the world agrees is a fundamental human right: the right to education -- the right to a life of hope. It's facts like these that give comfort to terrorists like Boko Haram, but young people everywhere are countering with an even more compelling set of actions.
Last year, when the Taliban attacked the young education advocate, my friend Malala Youssafzai, young people mobilized around the world to stand behind her message and declare that we are all Malala. The UN Special Envoy on Global Education, in collaboration with A World At School and the Global Education First Youth Advocacy Group, teamed up with the United Nations to organize the first ever Youth Takeover of the United Nations. Over 500 young people from one hundred countries gathered at the UN to not only hear Malala make her defiant and historic speech, but to stand in solidarity with her in the fight for education for all. That movement has not faltered. In fact, it has only been growing stronger.
In April this year, in front of the United Nations Secretary, General Ban Ki-Moon and the Gordon Brown launched the Global Youth Ambassador program -- a dedicated group of 500 youth leaders from over 85 countries who signed up to mobilize for education in their communities and around the world for the right to education for all. And this movement is making its voice loudly heard!
On Monday June 16, 2014, young people in over 50 countries have organized over 100 events to stand in solidarity with the abducted Nigerian girls and demand that our leaders do more to guarantee safe quality access to education for all. June 16 is an apt day for what A World at School has dubbed a Youth Mobilization Day. In 1976, black students in apartheid South Africa took to the streets to demand their rights to an equal education in their own language. The apartheid government opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators shooting and killing many, while wounding many others. Since 1991, the African Union has memorialized the day as the Day of the African Child to commemorate the sacrifices of children and focus on what society can do to improve the welfare of all children.
I arrived in Addis Ababa last week to help organize the flagship event -- a children and youth takeover of the African Union. Over 500 children from every country across the region -- and many from outside the continent, will speak up for their right to education. We will hold a historic assembly in the chambers of the African Union with young advocates calling for African leaders to make education an urgent priority, as it deserves. Over 30 million children remain out of school in Africa and that's 30 million too many.
One of the major partners behind these events, the UK-based organization. Plan International, is also organizing a historic run around the African Union. 1,000 young people will take part in a symbolic run to signal that governments are running out of time to act for education. The run will particularly highlight that governments have #10daystoact for education.
In ten days time on June 26, the Global Partnership for Education -- the world's largest multilateral education funder -- will hold its second replenishment conference in Brussels. There, governments will be asked to renew their commitments to education. Youth leaders are urging them to act decisively and fully fund the GPE's goal of 3.5Billion for the next four years while also urging governments to increase their own internal allocation to education.
Far from Addis, in cities as diverse as Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, Delhi and Oslo, other youth campaigners are organizing events and calling on their governments to join what has been referred to as the civil rights fight of the 21st century. From simultaneous youth takeovers to community demonstrations, seminars, vigils and even arts exhibitions, young leaders are making their voices heard. Extremists like Boko Haram cannot be the voice of our generation and we will not let them win.
There has been global outrage and solidarity in response to the vicious kidnapping of over 200 young schoolgirls from the village of Chibok, in Northern Nigeria. Celebrities, government officials and ordinary citizens alike have signed petitions and added their voices to the global call to "#bringbackourgirls." Youth leaders are leading efforts to demand not only that the girls are brought back, but that governments do more to guarantee that this doesn't happen again -- that a child's right to go to school is protected.
If anyone doubts the power of this movement consider this: the few Chibok girls who managed to escape from Boko Haram have done something remarkable. They went right back to school. Their actions inspire our movement. It should make our governments act too. They must fund education. That is how Boko Haram loses!
Chernor Bah is campaign coordinator for Youth Engagement at A World At School