(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Dear friends of Childhood,
Almost 20 years ago I met a young boy in the Favelas of Brazil. He very proudly showed me his home – a box where he could barely fit to sleep and where he kept all of his belongings. The box was his comfort zone and his safe place. It was his little universe. As I left Brazil I could not stop thinking of the boy. The rain was pouring down, and I was wondering what would happen to his home and if he would have to find a new safe place. It was at this moment the idea of Childhood was born.
I believe all of you have heard this story at least once. But the little boy who has been on my mind ever since, and who has inspired all of you to support my vision, is not a little boy anymore. He is a grown man, and most likely he has children of his own. I have often wondered what happened to him and where he is now.
I have of course no way of knowing, but if you will allow me to make a few assumptions I would like to paint two different scenarios:
In my first scenario our boy has had to fend for himself. He ran away from home due to abuse and neglect and he no longer knows where his parents are. In order to stay alive he has had to stop going to school and is now fighting every day for his survival. At age 8 he is still attractive as a child prostitute and can survive through selling himself, but at the age of 14 this is no longer an alternative. His drug habits have become more severe and he now needs to find more money to sustain his dependence. He therefore turns to crime and becomes involved in a street gang who steels from tourists, vendors, and cars. At the age of 18 he has already fathered two children. One of the children lives with her teenage mother in the favelas. The other he last saw on the streets with her mother who also is a drug addict. At the age of 21 he has already been arrested three times for petty crimes, but he is now becoming more and more involved in trafficking drugs. At the age of 25 he dies of a drug overdose in a park. He is missed by no-one. We still don’t know his name.
This is a grim picture and very sad. Unfortunately this is the reality and the future for too many children around the world. The good news is that we can change the story.
In my second scenario an organization working with outreach work (very much like the Childhood supported Parent Centre in South Africa), encounters the little boy only a few days after I left. They befriend him and manages to gain his trust. As a result he is brought into a transitional home, much like the project Voice of Children in Nepal, where he is given a bed to sleep in and nutritious food. In the coming month his identity is being confirmed and his parents are contacted. Once this is done our box-boy is transferred to a nicer home in the outskirts of Sao Paolo where he is put into school so that he will be able to attend his local school once he is home. Rehabilitation work is commenced so that he and his mother will be able to reconnect and again live as a family. We now know that his mother had married a man who abused the boy and who also infected his mother with HIV. His mother therefore worries that she will not be able to care for the boy.
Through the social workers she is put in contact with an organization that helps women who have been infected with HIV. The organization works just as the Childhood supported project Mama+ in Russia. Through this organization the mother is given support to reestablish her social network, re-connect with her family and seek employment. After a year: Our box-boy can return to home, where he also enjoys the love of his grandmother. He returns to school where he attends after school activities provided by an organization similar to the Childhood supported project Kids Ark, in Thailand. The project ensures that the boy receives the help he needs for homework. That he has somewhere to go when his mom is at work and that he receives one meal of nutritious food. On school vacations he is given the possibility to attend summer camp through another organization who works like Children to Single Mothers in Sweden. When he is 17 he graduates with good enough grades to enter into higher education. Today he is married with two children and holds a steady job as one of the 87.000 truck drivers, transporting goods from Bahia to the south of Brazil.
In 2006 Childhood Brazil got to know that many children were the victims of sexual abuse on that route! After reaching out to 50 transport companies, World Childhood Foundation Brazil developed workshops for the truck drivers about Children’s Rights. Our box-boy participated and is one of the best ambassadors among them. Thanks to this initiative of World Childhood Foundation Brazil we know that 82% of the 1 million truck drivers today are against sexual abuse of children. When he tells his children about his childhood he does not leave out the difficult years, but he also tells them of the many happy memories he has and teaches them games, songs and plays that he learned when he was a child.
This is the ending we have created for the box-boy. And this is the happy ending that we are now able to give to hundreds of thousands of children. In addition, we are today able to ensure that hundreds of thousands of children are never even found on the street, being abused or left alone. In only 15 years you have all helped me to accomplish an ending to what I thought would never be possible. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being here tonight in support of Childhood and our work. And I hope that after this night we will ensure many more happy endings and many more loving childhoods.