Cathrine Mantswe is a 17-year-old girl who was recently appointed as UNICEF Botswana’s first Youth Advocate. She was diagnosed with a brittle bone disease and is currently using a wheelchair.
Cathrine speaks up to promote children's rights and works to include every child on the issues that affect them. She has raised the issue of inclusive education with the President of Botswana, and has brought the voices of young people to several forums and events. Catherine is interested in advocacy, debating and playing chess. She has just completed grade 10, and is looking forward to write her first novel.
This World Children’s Day, we celebrate Cathrine’s efforts to create a world where children feel “happiness and fulfillment” with an illustration by Meriam Kajo. Here Cathrine introduces herself, reflects on what inclusion means to her, and the change she seeks in the world.
My name is Cathrine, I’m a girl who was born and raised in Botswana. I was diagnosed with OI, a brittle bone disease, and I currently use a wheelchair. I have been appointed as the first Youth Advocate of UNICEF Botswana.
I am a young girl who is very interested in advocacy. I love speaking out and raising my voice, not to shout but to represent the voices of every human being whose voice is not heard, especially children and young people, and to impact and generate change in their current lives and future lives.
As a Youth Advocate, I voluntarily participate and speak to advocate for children's rights at the regional and global level, but especially in my country. Botswana is a very peaceful and democratic place. However, like our former late president Sir Seretse Khama said: "Democracy, like a little plant, does not grow or develop on its own. It must be nursed and nurtured if it is to grow and flourish. It must be believed in and practiced if it is to be appreciated. And it must be fought for and defended if it is to survive." We live up to this timeless quote with the help of UNICEF Botswana, which includes every child in the issues that affect them. We children say "if you want me to listen to you as an adult, first make me feel that you will listen to me when I speak". I also believe in the idea behind this quote: “Nothing for us without us.” Us, children and young people, should be included.
Inclusion is all about accommodating people that have been historically left out due to their abilities, sexuality, race or age. It's about making a better environment for every human being to live peacefully. Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists, but making a new space – a better space – for every human being. That’s why inclusion is one of the most powerful ways of creating happiness and fulfillment in every child's heart.
People across the world should know that they have a responsibility to make inclusion a mandate, so that we can even get rid of the word inclusion, so that it becomes a part of everyday life, something so common we don’t need to mention it.
I advocate for inclusion because I was motivated by personal experiences. In my childhood I went through challenges to get access to education, health, and other rights due to my different ability. I was born with a brittle bone disease known as Osteogenesis imperfecta. It is a very rare condition that resulted in me having to use a wheelchair. Due to this, I faced challenges to do everyday things, like getting lunch at school or using the restrooms that are far from their classrooms. Movement on a wheelchair is also difficult because of the limited paved areas. I do not want others to experience the challenges I have experienced. That’s why I advocate on behalf of others; when I raise my voice, people listen, and the message is delivered.
While many organizations pride themselves on inclusion efforts without realizing how much more work needs to be done in this regard, we speak to policy and decision makers along with children, to involve them in the issues that affect their lives. For example, we promote inclusive education. To achieve this, we need inclusive infrastructure for persons with disabilities, and also free internet at schools to allow students to do their research. Not only that, but we also need to accommodate the needs of students who face other challenges, for example students with Dyslexia.
We focus on the rights of all individuals and ensure that the right conditions are put in place for each person to achieve their full potential, while being respected and feeling supported and valued. We advocate for inclusion so that the voice of the underrepresented groups is heard on issues that are important to them, and that their views and wishes are genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.
I aspire to live in a world with inclusion, where children, regardless of their different abilities, are involved in decisions about their present and future lives. This will lead to better discussions, decisions and outcomes for everyone, because we would listen and celebrate what is common and what is different. We would also become wiser and more inclusive as a nation. At a personal level, a world with inclusion would give me access to different services and opportunities – just like everybody else.