Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the Celebrations of World Book and Copyright Day with Etjendlovu Primary and High Schools
The UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, addresses students at Etjendlovu High School, Shiselweni, on World Book and Copyright Day.
Government officials from the Ministry of Education,
Director, Teachers and staff at the Etjendlovu school,
A very good morning to you all. Let me begin by wishing you a happy World Book and Copyright Day! I am honoured and delighted to be with you today, not only to share with you donations from UN staff and partners, but to celebrate the wonderful role that books play in all our lives. Thank you for having us at your beautiful school.
World Book and Copyright Day is an important day that is celebrated throughout the world every year on 23rd April. It was established by UNESCO; a part of the UN family which aims to bring education to all children. It celebrates the power of reading, and the importance of publishing and copyright. It also marks the birth and death of wonderful authors like William Shakespeare and others.
As I continue, I am reminded of the African proverb on which each of us shall meditate: “To get lost is to learn the way”. The same is true about books: to get lost in a book, is to learn the way. Whether an educational, a fictional or an historical book: it has the capacity to teach us a lesson that will stay with us wherever we go.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly impacted you all, our boys and girls - as schools closed and lockdowns were implemented - has taught us the importance of education, community and stimulating our minds.
We have seen how books are powerful tools, in school and at home, to keep us connected: whether it be through studying from the same textbook as your classmates or immersing your mind into an unknown world and brilliant story.
Please stand up if you were able to read a school or story book during the recent lockdowns. Please remain standing if you would like to read even more.
It is wonderful to see that you, our smart future generation, appreciate and hope to read. It will only serve you as you grow into strong, brave, courageous and smart individuals. I encourage you to open and immerse yourself into every book that you have the opportunity to read, such as: ‘The Pearl’, ‘The Trials of Brother Jero’, as well as all the Reader Books, for – through your readings - you will travel across the globe, you will connect to others and other cultures in a unique way, you will improve your grammar and vocabulary, and, in turn, you will have more to share with others and you may be empowered to educate others!
However there is a huge gap in access to books across the globe: studies show that one-in-every-two primary school aged children in Africa will reach their adolescent years unable to read or write, whereas in most developed countries, nearly every child will be able to read and write by teenage-hood We must continue to fight for equal access to these powerful resources. Indeed, access to books proved essential during the COVID-19 lockdown, as school closures affected 1.6 billion children and youth around the world, including 350,000 Emaswati learners and each one of you.
Please put up your hand if you found it difficult not being able to learn or go to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Your raised hands tell a powerful story and we will not give up until each of you have access to well-written, educational, mind-opening, inspiring and challenging books. This is reflected in the efforts, made in solidarity, by the United Nations, the Government of Eswatini and partners to achieve Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to bring quality and inclusive education to all.
The dropout rate from school in Eswatini is very high, with 87 of every 1,000 girls falling pregnant and losing their education. We must protect our girls from dropping out of school due to early pregnancies.
Our children and youth living in rural communities have the least access to education and one third of these children have disabilities. Children who work, are nomadic and those who are impacted by HIV and AIDS and conflict, are exceptionally vulnerable to losing their access to education. We must therefore prioritize education and access to quality books for our most vulnerable children and youth in Eswatini. We cannot afford to leave our children and youth behind in our efforts to achieve Agenda 2030.
This year marks the beginning of a five-year cycle in which the Government and the UN in Eswatini have committed to create a prosperous Eswatini where no one is left behind, including all children. One main goal of our agreement is to improve quality teaching and learning, making sure that education is accessible to every child.
As I look out at the brave, bold and joyful faces before me, I am reminded of the great Martin Luther’s words: “If you would like to change the world, pick up your pen and write’. You are the leaders of our tomorrow, our world-shakers and movers. I encourage you all not only to continue indulging into books but becoming authors . Take your inspiration from incredible writers, journalists and activists such as Eswatini’s very own Cynthia Hlophe, Thoko Mgabhi, and Ken Rowley. Write your own inspiring story; we want to read it and this year, the UN will organize more essay competitions in which we expect you to participate. Be your own hero and follow your passion, promising to never give up: whether it be through teaching, cooking, engineering, building, medicine and so much more.
At this stage, it is my utmost pleasure to present to you stationery, books, masks and sanitary pads donated by UN staff and partners to support the students of Etjendlovu primary and high schools in their endeavors towards learning, reading, growing and write.
As I close, I would like to reflect on the words of the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Audrey Azoulay, on today’s World Book and Copyright Day as she said:
“It is the power of books that we all need right now, as we are reminded of the fundamental importance of literature – as well as the arts – in our lives. In celebrating books, we are also celebrating their authors, who provide us with snippets of life and insights into other realities. They open a window onto the world –more precisely, a window onto other worlds and other forms of existence.
Today, we also pay homage to all the professions associated with books: editing, translation, publishing and book selling. These fields make it possible to disseminate our literary heritage, to allow for the expression of new ideas, and to enable the spread of stories. These professions must be protected and their value acknowledged. This is all the more relevant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a deep and lasting threat to culture.
At a time when reading is invaluable, the importance of our commitment to integration, education and peace in and through reading becomes crystal clear. For this year's edition of World Book and Copyright Day, I therefore encourage each and every one of you to pick up a book, start turning its pages, and draw from it a breath of fresh air, which will help sustain you now and in the future.”
I thank you.