I tried to imagine a world where children are taught penmanship instead of marksmanship. A place where our future is brighter than that of the generation before us. A universe where education is the Holy Grail available to all, regardless of where we were born and the passports that we carry. Such dreams were suffocated in the barrel of an AK-47 that I held – and that stood taller than I was – at the age of 5. Survival was the only thing that I knew. So, for life, I ironically clung until death to my AK-47, hoping to survive another second, another day. My nightmares as a child soldier eventually subsided at age 9 when I was rescued from the rebels. What seemed like the end of my struggles, was actually just the beginning.

The war in Sierra Leone didn’t just rob me of my childhood, it deprived me of my right to a quality education. I became accustomed to a world where the discourse of education never took place. I was given a gun instead of a pen – taught to squeeze a trigger instead of learn to read. I was homeless, orphaned and uneducated before my 12th birthday. A circle that I never thought I would break out of. But then the unexpected happened – I was given the chance to go to school at age 10 by strangers who had nothing to gain by giving me a chance. In my state of homelessness and hunger, I soon understood the power of education because, it was within the walls of my school that I was taught to think with a pen in my hand.

And so today, empowered by my education, I know very well the importance of initiatives like the Education Commission whose goal is to help ensure that financing is available to provide a quality education to every child –  thus giving them choices, chances and options to better their lives.

Education is not just an equalizer, but it is the tool that has and will continue to empower generations to dream beyond borders. So don’t tell the 124 million children out there to wait any longer for their right to quality education, because they are tired of waiting. Their hands are impatient to hold a pen and their minds restless to dream of a better future. As a product of an emergency warfare situation and later of a gifted education, I speak to you on behalf of the faraway and unheard voices of the world, demanding you to give them a pen to inscribe their present and future one letter at a time.

Mohamed Sidibay is member of the Education Commission’s Youth Panel. You can read more about his work here.

Photo:  Mohamed Sidibay celebrates his graduation from George Washington University with his American parents Dana Berkowitz and Jose Padron.
Photo by Tori Jackson.