04 February 2011
After this amazing experience, I decided to return the warm reception with an activity that would make the children aware of their right to communicate, and in some way make them realize the importance of their active participation in the development of Guinea-Bissau.
Maria Rehder (centre) is a Brazilian UN Volunteer working as Communications and Advocacy Officer with the United Nations Resident Coordinator Office in Guinea-Bissau. Here she is surrounded by some of the children who participated in the production of the 'Journal Mural'. (UNV)

Bissau, Guinea-Bissau: Every child has its rights. This is the name of the first Journal Mural (Wall Paper) created by more than 50 children that live in the Tchada community in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. This activity was promoted by me, a Brazilian UN Volunteer, on a Saturday morning, two weeks after my arrival in the country where I volunteer as a UNV Communications and Advocacy Officer in the Resident Coordinator Office of the United Nations System in the country.

This volunteering initiative was to thank the Guinean children who live in my street for the lovely reception they organized for my Birthday, which was three days after my arrival in the country.

I have no words to express how I felt that night. When I got home from work around 7pm, I was greeted by a huge group of kids singing Brazilian songs and Happy Birthday to me. It was dark because most Guineans don’t have access to electricity. Guinea-Bissau is in a post-conflict situation, and many of the major social and health indicators reflect the country’s under-development and the existence of widespread poverty.

I should say that the children’s initiative was the result of a well-functioning 'buddy system' of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Guinea-Bissau. Ricardo Amaro, another Brazilian UN Volunteer who arrived in the country seven months before me, had built a trustful relationship with the community in the area where he lives in Bissau.

So when I arrived, besides giving me integration tips, he kindly introduced me into Guinean culture and also into the Tchada community.

After this amazing experience, I decided to return the warm reception with an activity, carried out with Ricardo’s help, that would make the children aware of their right to communicate, and in some way make them realize the importance of their active participation in the development of Guinea-Bissau.

By applying the concept of educommunication*, more than 50 children living in the Tchada community were motivated on that Saturday morning to work together and produce a Journal Mural to be exhibited on a tree in their street.

The objective of this activity was not only the final product of the Journal Mural, but most importantly to create a group environment where all the children could be free to express themselves and reflect on their ability to communicate. With a few pencils and some paper, I started to talk about rights, environment, education and development, issues related to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

After a while they felt motivated by the themes being discussed and started to express themselves about children’s rights. The younger children drew, and the older ones carried out interviews and wrote small texts. Some of them created the design for the Journal Mural.

At the end, they were very proud to have created their first communication product and to be able to show it to their community. But more importantly, at least during those few hours they exercised their basic right to communicate, they learned the notion of children’s rights and hopefully to stand for their rights on a daily basis. And I was convinced that volunteerism for development in Guinea-Bissau is really worthwhile.

*Educommunication is a way to make citizens aware of their capacity as agents of communication through the acknowledgement and exercise of their universal right to expression. As educommunication is education and communication in one word, educommunicators communicate and educate about what they learn. This helps achieve greater comprehension and better interpretation of the issue, especially among children.

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