High school student Salwa Aman from Addis Ababa gives the impression of someone older than her years. And the 16-year-old has a lot on her mind. “There are a lot of street children in my country who are not able to learn. There are many children who lost their parents because of HIV/AIDS. It is hard to think about it,” she says.
Salwa is one of the young Ethiopian delegates attending this week’s Junior 8 Summit in the town of Wismar, around an hour’s drive from the official G8 venue. For a teenager, she cuts an impressive figure.
We conducted our interview in our native tongue Amharic, but Salwa also speaks excellent English - surprising given that she’s been educated at a state-run school, where the standard of education can be poor.
The J8's participants are groups of eight children aged 13 to 17 years from each of the G8 member countries. This year’s J8 also included delegates from developing nations: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Algeria, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon and Sierra Leone are representing Africa.
While many are sceptical of the G8’s ‘African agenda’, Salwa tells me she believes the G8 leaders are taking African problems seriously.
As an African and a young person, Salwa wants to see a better world. This week she met with Cherie Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and was impressed by Mrs Blair’s knowledge of the problems faced by Africa.
Salwa told her that developed countries are granting more money for the military than for social matters. “I told them ‘It is not fair, we need education, we need medicine for those who live with the HIV virus, we need peace, we need them to keep their promise to grant money not weapons’.”
A tall figure in typical African dress, Isaya Yunge is a Tanzanian who made history in a modest way this week when he became the first African J8 delegate. In fact he was, strictly speaking, a J9 delegate after the German government decided to include an African delegate in the small group of junior representatives who usually meet the G8 leaders.
At just 17 years old he’s a peer educator for HIV and AIDS in his spare time, persuading other young people how abstinence and behaviour change can help them avoid HIV.
“Even though we are not part of the meeting, we are here to give our view and the picture of Africa,” he tells me. “We need more funds for anti-retroviral treatment for the people of Africa. These leaders can really do this.”