“Children and young people are a large part of a municipality’s citizens, and their voices must be included in all the processes of the municipality. Childhood is not a transport route to becoming an adult, it is about the children having a good life NOW”, says Helena Edvinsson, Children’s Ombudsman in Strängnäs Municipality, Sweden.
Helena has been involved in ICLD’s programmes since 2006, when she as project manager For Strängnäs Municipality applied for a municipal partnership with the district Simanjiro, Tanzania. The partnership, which was initially about meeting places for children and leaders, came to develop into a collaboration on student councils with one of the Maasai villages in the district, which acted as a good example for nearby villages. After the partnership turned 10 years old, the focus changed to the city of Dar es Salaam.
– There it was easier to get in touch, the internet worked and a lot was easier in a big city. In Dar es Salaam, student councils were also started in three primary schools with positive results.
But due to different needs for development, Helena and Strängnäs Municipality have now chosen to move the collaboration back from Dar es Salaam to where it all began. Therefore, a preparatory phase for a municipal partnership focusing on social sustainability has started with the Maasai village Emboreet in the district of Simanjiro, to continue the work of making children’s voices heard in northern Tanzania.
“Children should be respected today and not because they are the future”
Helena’s 40-year passion for the democratic inclusion of children is based on her background as a drama teacher.
– After my education, there were no positions as a drama teacher, it was a new concept that many did not know what it meant. I moved around the country and ended up in Strängnäs, where there was a part-time job. Then I believed in staying for a maximum of five years, it was 1983!
Since then, Helena has partly worked with drama in the municipality’s schools, but she has also been cultural secretary and head of Strängnäs Kulturskola. Her journey eventually led her to the role of Ombudsman for Children.
– Through all the different assignments, I have always highlighted children’s ideas, partly through different cultural activities with children in focus and dialogues with children in different contexts. I started with three colleagues the work of implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child as early as 2000 and have since committed myself to the need for children’s voices to be heard. In 2010, this led to the municipality establishing a position as local children’s ombudsman.
Helena is determined that children’s opinions must be included in decision-making processes. She is therefore happy to reach out to the municipality’s children in person to listen to their ideas.
– It can be anything from views on detailed plans, new traffic plans or signs with new names to playgrounds. My commitment is to let children participate when changes are to be implemented in good time. I go around to the schools and meet children, tell them what is going on and ask if they are interested in participating and leaving their views. Children should be respected today and not because they are the future.
About our series Champions of Local Democracy
Within this series, we tell personal stories about individuals who inspire others and let democratic values live on. Regardless of gender, status or the burdensome situations that they might have endured, they have never backed away from the democratic frontline. Our champions has been, or is currently, a part of our operations at ICLD. Read former portraits