Young UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Works to Promote Girls' Education

    23 July, 2014

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    Hannah Godefa is just 16 years old, but she is busy defending the right of all girls and women to be educated. The young woman serves as a national goodwill ambassador to Ethiopia for UNICEF -- the United Nations Children's Fund. And she is urging the UN to make a workable plan to end the discrimination that keeps girls out of classrooms.

    Last week, for example, she spoke in Geneva to the committee on elimination of discrimination against women. She talked about increasing girls chances for education and protecting them within education from sexual and other abuses.

    Young UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Works to Promote Girls' Education
    UNICEF national ambassador to Ethiopia Hannah Godefa

    Hannah Godefa was born in Canada to Ethiopian parents. She was appointed to her UNICEF job in January of 2013. Since then, she has visited Ethiopia and other countries in Africa.

    She describes the purpose of her work as speaking out for the millions of girls who are not attending school. Hannah notes that some girls do not have a school available to attend. And there are other reasons they can not get an education.

    "Girls also face a lot of responsibilities that, I say, discourage them from attending school - lots of family responsibilities," Godefa said.

    The young UNICEF ambassador believes cultural barriers and economic considerations also limit girls' chances. Sometimes, parents must choose whether to send their boys or girls to school. Hannah Godefa says many families value girls as workers.

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

    Hannah became interested in children's education when she was only 7 years old. She was visiting her grandmother in rural Ethiopia at the time. Hannah became friends with a local girl and wanted to keep communicating with her when she returned home.

    But Hannah's parents told her that the other girls do not have pencils or paper to write letters. Their daughter reacted by establishing the Pencil Mountain project. She says the project has provided more than 500,000 objects including writing instruments 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, " Godefa said.

    The project has also provided wheelchairs for disable students. Nowadays, as a teenager, Hannah does a lot of public speaking. She spoke at the International Day of the Girl Child at UNICEF New York Headquarters in October 2013. She made the presentation a month before her sixteenth birthday.

    She also acted as moderator or leader at a UNICEF event last December. American singer Katy Perry accepted responsibilities as UNICEF's latest goodwill ambassador at that event. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was among world leaders attending the discussion.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Education Report. I'm Jerilyn Watson.