Gogontlejang Phaladi: A social change activist

“Stand up, rise up and push forward.… Refuse to be silent”

At a recent youth forum at the United Nations headquarters in New York, 24-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi from Botswana was in the spotlight. The organisers of the event consider her one of the “most innovative young people across the world.”

Ms. Phaladi moderated a session on Africa organized by Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, and she urged young people to “stand up, rise up and push forward for a better Africa. Nobody is going to do this for us. We need to do it for ourselves.”

She further urged young people to fight for a place among the decision makers of their country: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you will sit on the floor.”

In Botswana, Ms. Phaladi is a distinguished philanthropist and human rights activist.  Very young, with the support of her parents, Ms. Phaladi started the Gogontlejang Phaladi Pillar of Hope Organization (GPPHO), a nongovernmental organization that focuses on human rights, gender equality and humanitarian work, among other issues.

How could anyone engage in charity work at such an early age? Two near-tragic events deeply affected the young Phaladi. First she nearly lost her mother in a serious car accident, and her father predicted she could speed her mother’s recovery if she dedicated herself to charitable acts. It was a message that pricked her conscience, she recalls.

Becoming a witness to the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS on families was the other moving experience that deepened her commitment to charity. “Botswana has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Many lives were lost and children orphaned, and I wanted to do anything to help.”

In 2006 Ms. Phaladi organized seminars, workshops and charitable events in most of Botswana’s 11 districts. Yarona FM, a radio station popular with young people, provided her with a platform to speak to a wider audience.

Ms. Phaladi says, being a young woman has its challenges. “In our society, success, leadership, achievements are mostly associated with the male gender. Also, communities believe the young cannot think constructively, that they have no opinion on important community matters.”

She’s heard some people say of her, “‘She is so young, why is she doing this? She must be confused,’” she said. But Ms. Phaladi is not giving up. “If I don’t speak up, who will do that?” Having experienced much more than most people her age, Ms. Phaladi feels lucky to be able to pursue the life she dreamed about at a very young age. Her message to young Africans is, “Stand up and take action. Refuse to be silent.”   (Shu Zhang)