Thandiwe grew up in a poor neighborhood of Lukasa, the capital of Zambia in Central Africa. When she was eight years old, her school was closed down for lack of teachers. Thandiwe led 60 children from her neighborhood in search of a new school. She garnered support from community and government officials for new school buildings and more land for classrooms. Seeing the disastrous effects AIDS on her community, she is also involved in HIV/AIDS education, talking to children and parents about HIV testing and taking children to get tested. She also co-wrote and illustrated a booklet for children called "The Chicken with AIDS" about the dangers of the disease.
1. Why are you involved in promoting children's education? What problems do you see?
I became involved in improving education for children - especially girls - because where I come from in Zambia, it is not easy for people to go to school. Its especially hard for girls -- they would rather have boys go to school than girls. I see that as inhuman. That's why I can lead and fight for education since I believe that it's a basic human right.
Also, sometimes a parent cannot afford to take his or her kids to school because it costs money. Then their boy or girl will lack the right education.
The reason why I care about children's education is because it's a basic human right. To me, the right to education is only second to the right to life. I am encouraging parents around the world to understand that education is not a game. Once you educate a child you educate a society.
2. What first inspired you to become involved?
When I was eight years old, my school was closed because there was a lack of teachers. They were not paid well and many died of AIDS. So I organized a group of gifted children -- though it was difficult for me to convince them to want to -- and we walked together to find another school.
At our new school here we opened a club called "Children's Rights Club" where we talked about the problems that we saw in our own lives.
3. What specific issues did you discuss in the club? How has it helped you?
It's a club where we talk about children's rights and responsibilities, especially the problems that we youth are facing. In that club, we look for solutions on how to solve those problems.
We looked at education, family matters, diseases that we experience. We looked at HIV/AIDS - one of the most deadly diseases in Africa. We also discussed negative pressures that we felt from friends or other group influences. We talk about politics too.
I think without that club, I wouldn't have learned about many of the foundations I work with today. It has really helped me, my friends and other children in Zambia because now many schools in my country have that club.
It has really helped out youth to talk openly about their problems. When you are in that club you can have a freer mind.
4. What's the hardest part about doing this kind of work?
Sometimes it's very difficult and frustrating. Sometimes you become tired but I enjoy doing it. I am not doing it just for fun but for a good reason.
I get frustrated with political leaders who forget that we children are the leaders of tomorrow. They only put money into wars -- wars that endanger children's right to life and education.
5. What was it like to win the Children's Peace Prize in 2007? Describe the time that you had.
Winning the Children's Peace Prize in 2007 has taught me and also my friends in Zambia to continue to stand up and speak for the voiceless. So it has really helped me a lot.
I was shocked, surprised and happy. But I wasn't nervous or scared because it wasn't my first time to stand up in front of a lot of people.
6. So what are you working on now? What do you hope to do in the future?
I am continuing to speak out in the community about the importance of education because there are some areas that I see that are not going well.
I know the government of Zambia is trying to build more schools but I think that have to hurry because the more they delay the more children get involved in bad things like prostitution or maybe they are falling into child abuse or drugs.
I also think I'll continue writing, another book or so.
7. What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out about an issue that's important to them?
I would advise them to be strong because there are a lot of difficulties when it comes to speaking out. Sometimes you may think that people are not taking what you say seriously. They should be strong and they should have courage in themselves.
Thandiwe Chama with students of the Jack CECUP School in Lusaka, Zambia [Courtesy of KidsRights].
Thandiwe Chama receives the Children’s Peace Prize 2007 from Sir Bob Geldof and Nobel Peace laureate Betty Williams [Courtesy of KidsRights].
Thandiwe with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [Courtesy of KidsRights].