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Justice and Compassion

Jamila Larson and friends from the Homeless Children's Playtime Project © Jeff Elkins

Jamila Larson and friends from the Homeless Children's Playtime Project © Jeff Elkins

I think of how we treat all children when I measure justice in the world.  My heroes are normal people who show their compassion by taking action.

I was in DC to tape an interview at the Supreme Court and looked out the window of my luxury suite, within view of the Capitol Rotunda, I noticed several mothers with babies in tow, hovering below. In minutes, around the corner, I discovered the largest and oldest adult homeless shelter in DC, where children live, without toys, friends or anything resembling childhood.

There are two and a half million homeless children in America.

My friend Jamila couldn't stand this and started a Playtime Project that took the kids out of the shelters, played with them and helped their families get social services. The Homeless Children's Playtime Project is thriving, unfortunately not in any danger of obsolescence.

 

 

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Standing on a playground at an elementary school in Kenya, the headmaster told me that many of the students put stones in their lunch pails to escape the shame of detection. Today, only 25% of Kenyan elementary schools have a school lunch program.

At one school in Masaailand, where cattle are sometimes prized more than young girls' educations, the headmaster of the local school started a fish farm and managed to sell every fish to the pastoralist parents of his students. The monies helped offset the costs of school lunch. He personally hates the taste of fish.

One billion children are malnourished world-wide. The World Food Program feeds 23 million every day in 62 countries and could do more, if they had the money.

 
© U.R. Romano

© U.R. Romano

 

On a dumpsite in central Brazil I met three generations of women (grandma, mother and daughter) all scavenging for food or anything salable. Eventually, the daughter would attend school through a cash transfer program called the Bolsa Escola. Her mom imagined she'd become the principal of the school. 

Over 40 million children are in school today, in 20 countries, using this anti-poverty program. It could be expanded, if there were more money.

Worldwide, nearly 70 million children have never set foot in school.

 
© Georgia Morris

© Georgia Morris

 

On the campus of Kenyatta University, I met four boys all there on scholarship. One said to me, "You don't remember me but I remember you. I was ten years old and picking coffee when you came to film and put me in school". With Kenyan Schoolhouse  graduates in chemistry, engineering, business and agriculture it's clear that poverty needn't be a final destination for any child.

 
© U.R. Romano

© U.R. Romano

 

On a farm in Texas, a young girl with a fever and heavy cough picked onions with her father for a penny a pound as we filmed. Working sick in over 100 degree heat for 10 hours.  Hundreds of thousands of children like her still pick our fruits and vegetables, exposed to deadly pesticides, without protection of federal law. 60% of them will eventually drop out of school. Our Congress has rejected any attempt to protect their health and future by revising the outdated 1939 Fair Labor Standards Act.

© Roy Van Beem

Finally, there's Robert. At 26, he has spent almost his entire life on the streets. He looks after 80 to 100 children who live at Kenyatta Market. He's the man, the father figure. Two of his three siblings died on the street.  His sister is missing. He has no identification. He is a nobody.  And yet when we went to the store to buy bread and milk to distribute to the children, Robert set the ground rules and handed out the goods, making sure the littlest were fed first and the young mothers next. He turned away the efforts of some to grab more than their share.

Each of these snapshots, is a measure of justice. The statistics can be numbing but the children themselves are very real and their childhoods are fragile and pass quickly. Robert, Jamila and the headmaster are the heroes - they show their compassion daily in what they do.

Desmond Tutu told us something I will never forget...  

 

"These children are not figures on a page, they are flesh and blood. Picture the face of a child you love, picture your own child."

and he said one other important thing.....

 "If you want to enjoy all you have.... share it."

 

Len Morris

Media Voices for Children, 110 Daggett Avenue, Vineyard Haven, MA, United States