When I heard that I had to go to New York to receive an award, I couldn’t believe it. It was only when we got our passports and visas, my mum and I, that I really believed it. I was extremely happy and very excited at the thought of going to New York, above all because of my commitment to helping girls to go to school.
Since 2012, I have participated in UNICEF’s Back to School campaign. In collaboration with the NGO the Human Rights Observatory (Observatoire des Droits humains (ODH)) and the production company Kivu Youth Entertainment, we created songs encouraging children to go to school and asking parents to send their children to school.
In my case, I was interested above all in girls’ education because many girls stay at home to do housework or get married at a young age.
Education is everyone’s future; it’s the future of the nation.
In October 2013, UNICEF made a video of me in which I talk about the importance of education, of going back to school, of peace and about girls who struggle to access education. A year later, I was told that Glamour Magazine had seen the video and that they wanted me to go to New York to receive an award for my commitment. The ‘Glamour Woman of the Year 2014’ is awarded to ten teenagers across the world and I was selected with two other African girls, Nailatu from Nigeria and Careen from Kenya.
They told me that the year before the prize had been awarded to Malala Yousafzai for her commitment to girls’ education. Malala is strong. This year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and she addressed a very strong message to us during the awards ceremony to encourage us. We also received a letter from Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the USA, in which she wrote to each one of us, telling us that she is very proud of us.
New York is very different.
There, everything is gigantic. The skyscrapers are so tall, so impressive. I wished to see my country become that developed one day because I love my country, the DRC, so much. I even have a song called “I love my country”. I also visited the Natural History Museum where I saw animals that I had never seen before. The biggest animal that has ever existed is the whale, and it is on display there, though the guide said it is only a copy. It isn’t a real whale, but it’s like a real whale.
I also visited Times Square at night. There, there are all these lights that dazzle you. I was very happy to have seen New York and I don’t know how to thank UNICEF for this experience. As for the journey, I made it with my mother Anni who told me that she too had never seen anything like this in her whole life. She was happy.
But New York… it was cold. Always 8 degrees Celsius, and eating was a problem as well. I would have prefered to have some ‘fufu’ and ‘pondu’. But there were only salads and soups which I had never eaten before and which I didn’t like very much.
I dedicate my award to all of the Back to School Youth Ambassadors
The award ceremony was indescribable. So that it all went well, we rehearsed everything that we had to do in the evening. There was a lot of light, a lot of photographs and cameras. When they called my name, I was scared, but when the people applauded, I felt at ease. I told myself that I am a girl and that I should be able to express myself to the whole world.
I felt too that the work I am doing is important and that I should continue.
This year, I did a song about education “This isn’t the solution” and my commitment to education will never end because I strongly believe that education is the key to success. I believe that if we have peace and good education, our country can develop.
And that is why I dedicate this award to all of the young boys and girls with whom I did the campaign, the Back to School ambassadors. We all worked together and they all deserve to be recognised.
I had a long discussion with the American Ambassador for Women’s Issues, Cathy Russel, about the situation of Congolese girls and the difficulties they can face going to school. Poverty, conflicts, fees and having to buy uniforms make access to education more difficult. I hope that my advocacy will help to improve the situation of girls in the DRC. During my journey, I met nine other wonderful girls from all over the world who are, like me, committed to education, and that too strengthened my own commitment. We exchanged email addresses so we can keep in touch. I am grateful UNICEF and Glamour Magazine, because it is thanks to them that I got to go to New York.
Today, I am recognised all over the world.
Photo : UNICEF DRC 2014 Ndiaga Seck
Translated from French by Holly-Anne Whyte
Melissa, 16 ans, est élève à l’Institut Tupendane de Goma. Chanteuse talentueuse, elle est engagée avec d’autres jeunes chanteurs aux côtés de l’UNICEF pour promouvoir la scolarisation des filles en tant qu’ambassadrice Back to school depuis trois ans. En 2014, elle est nommée Femme Glamour de l’année.
Melissa, 16 years old, is a student at the Institute Tupendane of Goma. Talented singer, she joined with other young singers and with UNICEF to promote the education of girls as the ambassador of Back to school project for three years. In 2014, she is one of Glamour Woman of the Year