June 2004 Campaign UPDATE

India New England News   (newspaper)

Copyright 2004                                  INDIA New England News                                                              Issue Date: May 15, 2004
318 Bear Hill Road - Waltham MA 02451                              
Tel: (781) 487-0555 - Fax: (781) 487-9207                                                                                                             
Child laborer's legacy lives in middle school kids' work
Quincy students help rename Reebok's day care center for deceased activist Iqbal Masih
By Poornima Apte
Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004
QUINCY, Mass. - It was 10 years ago that Iqbal Masih, once a child laborer in the carpet industry in Pakistan, made the rounds of Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy.

He was in town then to receive the Reebok Human Rights Youth-Action Award for his active role in speaking out against child labor.
In 1995, he was gunned down in Pakistan presumably for having spoken out against injustices that he had suffered. He was 13. The students at Broad Meadows have always been activists of sorts, but having met Iqbal in the flesh, his death hit them especially hard. They came together and raised money to build a school in Pakistan.

Ever since, the students have been part of a national program called Operation Day's Work, which is sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. They collect pledges from friends and family for a day's work, in their case, volunteer work at the local library. The money raised is then pooled nationally and helps to build schools in developing countries that need them the most. This year, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Iqbal's visit, Reebok decided to rename its employee day care center after him. Student representatives from Broad Meadows participated in the ceremonies on May 3 at Reebok's world headquarters in Canton, Mass. Doug Cahn, vice president of Reebok's human rights program, explained the decision to rename the center.

" Iqbal spoke very powerfully that children should have the tool of the pen, not the tool to make carpets," he told INDIA New England. "The message that I and many others he touched got was about the importance of education and giving children the opportunity to live in an environment - to grow and be nurtured."

Annually, the company recognizes human rights activists around the world with the presentation of the Reebok human rights awards.
"We hope the day will come," Cahn added, "when these awards are no longer necessary." This year, the Broad Meadows students, along with their counterparts around the nation, are looking to rebuild three primary schools in war-torn Sierra Leone. Ron Adams, a language arts teacher at Broad Meadows, provides guidance and counsel to the students when needed. In past years, students have raised money for schools in many countries, including Haiti, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Seventh-grader Kristen Bloomer is one of the many participants in the program. She points out that for a country to qualify for aid it does not necessarily need to be on friendly terms with the United States. "We don't hold politics against the children," she says. "Kids who need help should get it." She says that participation in programs such as Operations Day's Work has opened her eyes to injustices that children around the world suffer every day. " I don't buy clothes from Old Navy or Gap anymore," she says, "because they have been accused of using child labor. It would be hypocritical when we are advocating an end to child labor."

Her classmate and friend, Emily Rooney, says that the satisfaction derived from helping other children just like her is immense. " We live the dream that these children in Sierra Leone and every other developing country dream of," she points out. Sixth-grader Yasser Mahmoud, who immigrated to the United States from Egypt a few years ago, admits he now sees things from a different perspective. " I like the thought of being able to help kids out there," he says. "Before I joined [Operation Day's Work], I used to take the bus to school. Now that I joined, I am like why do I take the bus, I can walk. These kids have to walk miles to go to a school. All I have to do is walk a hundred yards or something. It makes me feel good."

As for teacher Ron Adams, he says the students' idealism provides the fuel for this venture. "What better words could a teacher ever hear," he asks, "than to hear students say that education is power. Bags of money dry up but education lasts a lifetime."



From left, Reebok Chairman and CEO Paul Fireman, Broad Meadows School student Kristen Bloomer and teacher Ron Adams applaud the renaming of Reebok´s day care center for Iqbal Masih. Iqbal, a former child laborer, was killed in his native Pakistan for speaking out about the injustices he had suffered.
Students at the Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Mass., shown with teacher Ron Adams, raise money to help build schools in developing countries.


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