Chernor Bah’s childhood was interrupted by the chaos brought about by the civil war in Sierra Leone, which started when he was six years old. To escape the fighting, he and his family were displaced countless times between 1992 and 2001, fleeing to displaced camps in Sierra Leone and refugee camps in neighboring Guinea.
In response to the atrocities he witnessed, Chernor became a renowned peace activist at the age of 15. He mobilized his peers to set up the Children’s Forum Network, the first national children’s organization in Sierra Leone. Its aim was to advocate for children’s rights and participation in the peacemaking and peace-building efforts. In the capacity of founding national president, he traveled all over the country, soliciting the input of children in displaced camps, ex-child combatant interim care centers, schools and war-afflicted communities. At the age of 15, he was invited by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, during its thematic hearings, to make a presentation on the impact of the war on children and to make recommendations for the future.
After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Sierra Leone, Chernor was awarded the first-ever youth fellowship at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to work at UN headquarters in New York with the agency’s Humanitarian Response Unit. This assignment provided him the opportunity to travel to many war-affected spots in the world and consult with young people. His findings contributed to international policy discussions, including The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, commonly known as the Graça Machel report. He co-wrote the report Will you listen? Young Voices from Conflict Zones and participated in a multi-media documentary called “Youth Zones,” both of which were produced by UNFPA and the Women’s Refugee Commission. He subsequently served as a youth advisor for the UNFPA in post-conflict Liberia—developing and managing the first multi-stakeholder adolescent girls initiative in the country.
Chernor completed a Master’s Degree at the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame on a full scholarship. Upon graduating, he worked with Nike Foundation, helping to create and manage an award-winning innovative adolescent girls program in Ethiopia. While there, he was invited to sit on the UN Secretary General’s high-level steering committee to lead a global campaign on education. He represented youth on the committee and worked alongside other members, including Ban Ki-Moon, Jim Kim and many other distinguished experts, to develop and launch the initiative. Chernor also serves as the Chair of the initiative’s Youth Advocacy Group — a network of 15 outstanding youth leaders from around the world who are mobilizing other young people and leading international advocacy on education. As a result of his work and the campaign, the UN established the first Special Envoy office dedicated to global education. The Special Envoy, Gordon Brown, invited Chernor to join his staff and lead the office’s work with youth engagement.
Chernor travels around the world inspiring and mobilizing young people to stand up for their rights to education, speaking at many conferences and events on social justice and peace issues and particularly on the participation of young people in peace-building and the rights of young women and girls. He is a passionate, articulate and effective champion of young people’s rights in conflict-affected situations. (See interview on page 2)
Credit: UN Women’s Refugee Council