At last week’s Open Forum 2012–provocatively titled “Money, Power & Sex: The Paradox of Unequal Growth,” Africa’s leading activists, academics, artists, businesspeople, and policy-makers gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, to discuss the factors influencing and driving change on the African continent. During a “Google Zone” panel to discuss the role of storytelling in spurring a global movement for girls, 10×10′s Egyptian writer, Mona Eltahawy, and eL Seed, 10×10 Global Champion, discussed the ways in which their writing and “calligraffiti,” respectively, attempt to create revolution through art.
As it happens, this was not the only opportunity for us to discuss revolution during our few days in Cape Town — to me, revolution was the most powerful idea that emerged from the time I spent at the Open Forum. Of course, it was relevant during a plenary on the ongoing legacy of the Arab Spring on the eve of the Egyptian elections, but underneath these events capturing the world’s attention lies a less visible, but no less critical revolution: the efforts of young people all over the world to demand a quality education.
As a case study, take Equal Education, a grassroots movement of students, parents, teachers and community members working for high-quality and equal education in South Africa. This organization has tackled a number of persistent infrastructure and other challenges for schools in townships throughout Cape Town, including insufficient textbooks and poorly maintained libraries. But rather than charging in with a model for development and imposing it upon the schools and their students, Equal Education arms students themselves with the information and tools to advocate for the changes that they want to see happen. In 2008, for example, Equal Education asked students in Khayelitsha to go into their schools and take photographs of anything that they thought affected their learning. One young woman, Zukiswa Vuka, came back with a photograph of her school’s broken windows. It turned out that there were more than 500 broken windows at Luhlaza High School, which made it difficult for students and teachers alike to concentrate and moreover, to be proud of their learning environment.
Through a combination of meetings with school management, petitions, press, and the tireless efforts of students who mobilized their friends to raise awareness of the broken windows in their own schools, all of the windows at Zukiswa’s school were eventually fixed. There are many more schools and many more broken windows, in Khayelitsha, and in townships and slums and villages all over the world. But this small victory illustrates the power of students around the globe who are working to demand what they know is right; what they are entitled to, no matter what their circumstances: the chance to learn.
And what do these passionate and committed students call themselves? The Equalizers. Talk about revolutionary!