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Young UNICEF Activist Works to Promote Girls' Education

  • Lisa Schlein

UNICEF national ambassador to Ethiopia Hannah Godefa

UNICEF national ambassador to Ethiopia Hannah Godefa

A young activist is calling on the United Nations to come up with a tangible plan to end the discrimination that prevents millions of girls worldwide from getting an education.

UNICEF national ambassador to Ethiopia Hannah Godefa explained the passion that drives her to speak out for the right of all girls and women to be educated.

Godefa's age belies her long list of accomplishments.

Being a UNICEF national ambassador "has been one of the greatest joys of my short 16 years of living," said Godefa, who was born in Canada to Ethiopian parents.

She was appointed to the post in January 2013 at age 15. Since then, Godefa has been visiting Ethiopia and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa to promote the benefits of girls’ education.

Access to education

She told VOA it is her job to speak out on behalf of the millions of girls around the world who do not have access to schooling.

“Girls also face a lot of responsibilities that, I would say, discourage them from attending school - lots of family responsibilities," the teen said. "There are so many cultural barriers for girls [that] prevent them from receiving education and many economic factors that families have to consider when they are choosing whether to send their boys to school or whether to send their girls to school.

"So, all the odds are stacked against them. That is why we have to target them and support them and protect them," Godefa said.

Godefa’s involvement with children’s education began at age 7.

During a visit to relatives in rural Ethiopia, she made a good friend and wanted to keep in touch with her when she returned home. She was frustrated to learn her friend did not have pencils or paper.

So Godefa founded the Pencil Mountain project, which she says has distributed more than 500,000 items for use in schools.

"So, things beyond pencils, like other basic school supplies as well as text books for second-generation universities, some of the newer universities that have been constructed in Ethiopia, as well as wheelchairs for students with disabilities and a whole bunch of supplies that are under the umbrella of basic education for students. And, that is for boys and girls," Godefa said.

She said she believes she is having an impact as goodwill ambassador.

Coming from Canada, Godefa said, makes her living proof of the benefits of sending a girl to school.

On the other hand, she said having Ethiopian roots gives her insight into the country’s traditional practices and helps her navigate around cultural mindsets that keep girls out of school.

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