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Children’s Parliament In Yemen

February 27, 2011

A couple of days ago I mentioned the excellence of Al Jazeera’s documentaries. One series is called Witness, and regardless of your thoughts on the station, they are well worth a watch.

I’ve been following Al Jazeera quite closely over the past few days for the same reason as most other people in the Middle East. Today there was a half-hour piece about the Children’s Parliament elections in Yemen. I don’t know too much about the Children’s Parliament programme, except that it’s international and Save the Children are involved.

The programmme was touching and at times hilarious. Kids from a school in Sana’a are canvassing for election to a Children’s Parliament. The winners will take part in a session at the real parliament house.  We see kids doing their pitch to their classmates, preparing their campaign and messages with their fathers. One of the girl electors is struggling to decide on which boy candidate to vote for (they have elections for boys and girls), and goes against her better instincts by disclosing  – in a fit of giggles – that she is likely to vote for the class heartthrob.

When the winners are announced (the heartthrob gets the vote from his year), the losers are pictures of grace, and announce, with absolute sincerity, that they feel like winners too. The gentleness and enthusiasm of these kids, and the affection and pride of their teachers, kept me smiling throughout.

When the winners celebrate in the playground, they are hoisted on to the shoulders of their classmates, and one kid prances around with an ignited aerosol spray sending flames into the air – just to remind us that we are in Yemen!

The show ends with the kids assembling in Parliament for their debates. I’m not sure what sorts of schools took part. Given that the heartthrob was the son of a government minister, I suspect that the school was for fairly well-heeled kids by Yemeni standards, but it didn’t seem too well equipped.

No matter. The message is that there’s plenty of spirit and idealism among the children of the Middle East. I’ve seen that in my professional life as well.

Watch the show if you can. It’s a great counterpoint to all the grown-up turbulence in the region. Here’s the link to Al Jazeera’s schedule.

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