by Thea Halo
Of course, as adults it is our job and even our duty to make the world a better, safer place for children around the world to grow into well adjusted, productive, happy adults. Yet throughout history, children around the world have often taken it upon themselves to do the job of grownups because, let’s face it, we’ve often let them down.
Some of their activities are local endeavors. Some are global. Here is a list of only a few of the extraordinary young people who have helped, or are helping to change the world.
For instance, we’ve all heard of Greta Thunberg, the young environmental activist from Sweden who believes that no one is too small to make a difference. Perhaps she learned that from Licypriya Kangujam, a Nine-year-old from india. Licypriya started an organization in July, 2018—a month before Thunberg’s—called “The Child Movement” for Climate Change, to call on world leaders to take immediate climate action to save our planet and our future. Licypriya said: “The best gift parents can give to their children, is not lots of money or expensive houses, but a beautiful planet.”1
Louis Braille, was blinded by the age of three in his father’s workshop. Luckily for Braille, his parents didn’t allow their son’s blindness to keep him from going to school. By the age of 15, Braille invented a system of raised dots that could allow the blind to read using their fingers. Braille had improved on an earlier invention by Charles Barbier. Braille’s system was presented to his peers for the first time in 1824.2 It is still in use today.
Malala Yousafzai was only around 11 or 12 years old when she began to write a blog decrying Tehrik-i-Taliban’s military occupation of Pakistan’s Swat. The Tehrik-i-Taliban is an organization that often banned girls from attending school. After receiving prominence from an article in the New York Times that made their plight known to the world, Malala and two other girls were shot by the Tehrik-i-Taliban in an effort to silence them. After healing from the gunshot wounds, Malala would go on to become a prominent activist for the right to education and “co-founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization, with Shiza Shahid.” From 2013 to 2015 Malala was featured in issues of Time magazine “as one of the most influential people globally.”3
Marley Dias is an all-star reader who organized a book drive called #1000BlackGirlBooks in November 2015, when she was not quite 11 years old. The campaign delivered more than 8,000 books to young girls.4
Kid Blink and the Newsies (1899) were kids who sold newspapers on street corners for major newspaper men like Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. When those two pioneers of the news business decided to charge the boys an additional penny to buy each paper they sold—as if Hearst and Pulitzer needed those extra pennies more than the poor kids who sold their papers—“Kid Blink and other ‘newsies’ …mobilized to protest the increase with raucous rallies and a strike. They won so much support from readers that the papers went from printing 350,000 copies a day to only 125,000!”5
Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat to a white woman in Montgomery, Alabama. She was only 16 when she was arrested. That was nine months before Rosa Parks took the same action and was widely celebrated in Montgomery’s Black community. “Claudette was told by many adult leaders that she wasn’t fit to be a role model.” Undeterred, Claudette then became “one of four plaintiffs in the important busing desegregation case Browder v. Gayle.”6
Iqbal Masih was only four years old when his family in Pakistan sold him into slavery to pay off a debt, the equivalent of $12 at the time. He worked in a rug factory. “He would rise before dawn and make his way along dark country roads to the factory, where he and most of the other children were tightly bound with chains to the carpet looms to prevent escape. …After learning that bonded labour had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Masih escaped and attended “the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) school for former child slaves and quickly completed a four-year education in only two years.” He went on to help “over 3,000 Pakistani children that were in bonded labour escape to freedom and made speeches about child labour all over the world.” At the age of 12, he was gunned down by the “carpet mafia” near Lahore, Pakistan.7
William Kamkwamba, a semi-educated 14-year-old from Malawi, Africa, was forced to leave secondary school when his family could no longer afford to pay the fees. William “then went to his local library, read up on his science, found a DIY guide to making a wind generator and set about trying to build it. Using a tractor fan, shock absorbers, PVC pipes, a bicycle frame and anything else he could lay his hands on, he then built a rudimentary wooden tower, plonked his home-made generator on the top, and eventually got one, and then four bulbs to light up.” His generator was then used to draw water from the family well to water their fields during a terrible drought. “He is now known as ‘The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind’ – a book that was made into a film. He wrote on his blog: “I managed to teach myself about how motors and electricity worked. Another book featured windmills on the cover, and said they were used to pump water and generate power. I was so inspired I began collecting scrap metal and old bicycle and tractor pieces. Many people, including my mother, thought I was crazy.”8
Garrett Lowry “lost his grandfather and his beloved cat to cancer. …Thanks to his grandmother’s knitting lessons, the then 11-year-old Garrett turned a class philanthropic project into an ultimate act of compassion.” Garrett began to knit caps for kids with cancer. He has now “knitted more than 150 caps for kids suffering from cancer, donating the caps to hospitals in California and Colorado so the young patients can feel better after losing their hair” from Chemotherapy. His parents, Sheryl and Don Lowry, are now “helping him develop a foundation to continue his efforts.”9
There are so many other young people around the world who have taken it upon themselves to make this world a better place for others who may be suffering. They should be an inspiration to all of us to do better.
- Child environmental activist: ‘Our leaders are ruining our lives’ DW. https://www.dw.com/en/child-environmental-activist-our-leaders-are-ruining-our-lives.
- Louis Braille. Wikipedia.
- Malala Yousafzai. Wikipedia.
- Marley Dias. Wikipedia.
- Kid Blink and the Newsies. rebekahgienapp.com
- See more child activists @ rebekahgienapp.com/kid-activists
- Iqbal Masih, Wikipedia.
- John Vidal, “Tilting at Windmills: The boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Guardian, October 2, 2009.
- These 6 Kids Are Doing Amazing Things For Their Communities, Huffpost. August 29, 2017.
Thea Halo is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Not Even My Name, a former news correspondent for WBAI in NYC, and a former producer for public radio in upstate NY. Not Even My Name was instrumental in garnering the first state-level resolutions in the U.S. that recognized the genocide of the Pontian and other Asia Minor Greeks and Assyrians. She was a co-sponsor and driving force, along with Prof. Adam Jones, of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) resolution that affirmed the Ottoman Genocides of Pontian and other Asia Minor Greeks and Assyrians as comparable to the genocide of the Armenians. She has also published a collection of poetry, and a number of Thea’s historical papers on the Genocides of Greeks and Assyrians have been published in books on the Ottoman Genocides. In 2009, Thea, along with her mother, Sano Halo, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 105, were awarded honorary Greek citizenship by the Greek government. In 2002, Thea was awarded the AHEPA Homer Award and, in 2012, the Association of Greek American Professional Women honored Thea and Sano for their “Profound contribution to Literature and to Hellenic Cultural Heritage and History.” Thea has also won numerous awards for her poetry and literary essays.