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How Kailash Satyarthi helped me fulfil a childhood promise

He refuses to accept that the world is so poor, when just a week of global military expenditure can bring all children to classrooms.

 |  Life  |  4-minute read |   18-12-2015
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"With the explosion we began to fall/ Be brave and live."

    ~ Keiichi Matsumoto, passenger on the ill-fated Japanese airlines               flight 123 which crashed into Mount Osutaka in 1985

  • May it be an evening star
  • Shines down upon you
  • May it be when darkness falls
  • Your heart will be true
  • You walk a lonely road
  • Oh! How far you are from home
  •  
  • Mornie utulie (Darkness has come)
  • Believe and you will find your way
  • Mornie alantie (Darkness has fallen)
  • A promise lives within you now.

                             ~ Lyrics from Enya's "May It be"

I still remember sitting on the bus, on my way to school. The sun was not yet up; the street lamps outside casting shadow puppets within the bus. It was humid. There was no air conditioning back then. I was 16.

I watched a documentary the previous night about a dowry death in South Asia. The woman: her sore, puckered lips. Those lips! On death's edge.

She whispered the name of her killers. And then, she was gone.

I thought to myself, I'll do something about this when I grow up. Promise.

****

It has been quite a year. I took no pay leave from work. I wanted to learn how things were done at the grassroots level in India, how campaigns were run and to translate some of those practices to my homeland and set up my NGO.

But I learnt about more than that.

About the humility and steadfastness of a man named Kailash Satyarthi, who for 35 years, rescued more than 84,000 children from slavery and child labour. He won the Nobel Peace Prize almost a year ago now.

About the camaraderie of a solid group of colleagues at Satyarthi's NGO "Bachpan Bachao Andolan" (Save the Childhood Movement) who stood behind me when I launched a social media campaign against child sexual abuse. And who made time to make cardboard cut outs for our outreach programme in schools.

Who gamely painted their hands crimson red to post selfies for our campaign. Who rose early and tweeted with me as the hashtag #childsexualabuse trended in India on the morning of 24 September this year. And who trudged cheerfully alongside me as we made video after video to highlight the stories of survivors of child sexual abuse.

Interviewing and taping them, editing the film, translating the words from Hindi into English, and weaving in the background music. Weekend after weekend, we sat in the office, eyes on the screen as we worked at a furious pace. Another video out, another week.

Not to mention those friends who did work pro bono for our campaign. On the website design, the videos and the campaign song. The public service announcement that went viral. And those who patiently tutored me how to leverage social media. A year ago, I was not on Facebook. I did not know how to tweet.

What was it like to work with a Nobel laureate?

I have heard Mr Satyarthi - whose name means "the search for truth" - speak many times. He is authentic; he speaks from the heart. He refuses to accept that the temples, mosques, churches and prayer houses have no place for the dreams of our children.

He refuses to accept that the world is so poor, when just one week of global military expenditure can bring all the children to classrooms. He refuses to accept that all the laws and constitutions, police and judges are unable to protect our children.

He refuses to accept that the shackles of slavery can be stronger than the quest for freedom.

I draw inspiration from his quiet strength. His quiet dignity. That mien that belies what he has been through. Two of his colleagues were killed, rescuing children.

Children energise him. He radiates joy as they pile onto his lap, his white kurta pyjamas contrasting with their colourful clothes. They giggle and pull at his hands, a tumble of boisterousness. His eyes shine.

****

I am home now.

My friends worried about the transition - would I adjust to being home after eight continuous years abroad, not counting the time spent studying in London and Moscow, not to mention my year's sojourn in Central Asia?

But I am more comfortable in my own skin now. The year out has taught me a few things.

And I have a promise I am about to keep.

Writer

Eirliani Abdul Rahman Eirliani Abdul Rahman

The writer is Executive Director of non-profit YAKIN (Youth, Adult survivors & Kin In Need) and Director at the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation.

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