Children are not only the changemakers of tomorrow, they are also the changemakers of today.
This year, the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai is reflecting on the people who are changing the world. And children are certainly included.
Amongst the speakers will be Malala Yousafzai, renowned child campaigner. Growing up in Pakistan, Malala was a passionate advocate of girls’ education – despite a ban by the Taliban – and was shot on her school bus because of her beliefs.
Now she is studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford and, through the Malala Fund, fighting for the rights of 130 million girls globally who are out of school.
Here are the inspiring stories of five other child changemakers who are having an enormous impact on the world around them – regardless of their age.
Felix from Germany was just nine years old when he launched his tree-planting project, Plant For The Planet, first sharing his vision with fellow classmates during a school presentation.
He wanted one million trees to be planted in every country on earth, encouraging other children to get on with the task of offsetting carbon dioxide emissions while the adults were still talking about it.
Just three years later, a million trees had been planted in Germany. And the 11-year-old Felix had been invited to address the UN General Assembly.
Now 19, Felix has recruited 63,000 other children to be tree-planting ambassadors. And his vision is stronger than ever: to plant a trillion trees worldwide.
Rishab from Oregon is just 13 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from creating an artificial intelligence-based tool to help improve the effectiveness of treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths around the world, with an estimated 5-year survival rate of less than 5%.
Furthermore, treatment is hampered by the fact that the pancreas is difficult to locate since it moves and is often obscured by other organs.
Rishab contacted leading experts at cancer centres around the world, and then designed an AI-based tool to help pinpoint the pancreas more precisely, so that radiotherapy would be more accurate.
Rishab has now been named as the top young scientist in the US in 2018, and is in the process of partnering with hospitals to conduct clinical trials to commercialise his project so that it can be more widely used in the fight against cancer.
Brianna has cerebral palsy, but she has never let that slow her down – quite literally. She was first inspired to run by her PE teacher in year 7, and finally achieved her dream of competing in the Paralympics at Rio in 2016, coming 4th in the 100-metre sprint.
She is one of many young Paralympians around the world who have inspired disabled and abled-bodied children alike in their home countries, helping to overcome stereotypes.
Brianna is also an Ambassador and mentor for the Challenge Games in Australia, as part of her vision to inspire the next generation of para athletes. More than 1,000 disabled children participate in the event, which includes running, jumping and throwing and many other inclusive games.
Yash has worn glasses since he was five, but it wasn’t until he broke them at school 10 years later that he realised how essential they were to his studies.
The realisation that having no glasses was hindering the education of many children inspired Yash to start the charity Sight Learning. He discovered that 13 million children around the world simply can’t afford glasses.
Vision is an essential part of learning and, without it, students are unfairly prevented from achieving their full potential. Sight Learning aims to solve this by donating the millions of used pairs of glasses around the world to students who need them.
To date, Sight Learning has collected and distributed more than $1,500,000 worth of glasses to children in Mexico, Honduras, Haiti and India.
At the age of just 12, Zuriel had already made four documentaries and interviewed numerous heads of state including the presidents of Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.
She first taught herself to make films about the Ghana revolution for a school competition. Since then, she has gone on to make the internationally-recognized documentary A Promising Africa, which has been shown on the big screen in five countries, including South Africa, the UK and Japan.
She is also helping other girls learn the skills to make films, empowering them to tell their stories.
What is she changing? She is changing perceptions of Africa.
And her voice – together with those of many other child changemakers – is changing the narrative.
Hear from other changemakers like Malala at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2019. And learn more in Changemakers @GESF and SDG4 @GESF sessions.