by Mick Foley, Major Donor and ChildFund Sponsor
As many ChildFund sponsors have probably found, inspiration so often comes from unlikely sources. Small children from impoverished lands, who despite limitations in so many of the basic essentials, seem to have the power to reach across oceans and continents to touch our lives, to help make us better people.
As longtime ChildFund sponsors, my wife and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The ceremony was held last week at the United Nations in New York.
Several luminaries spoke at this momentous occasion including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman; former child-soldier-turned-best-selling memoirist and human rights activist Ishmael Beah; and longtime child activist Tim Shriver. I expected some of their words to touch me — and they did.
But for me, the day’s greatest moment of inspiration came from one of the youngest speakers.
Millicent Atieno Orondo, 17, but appearing several years younger, was a tiny physical presence, especially inside the massive auditorium that played host to the event.
Yet, from the moment she spoke, she commanded attention, using her powerful voice to not only inform the audience of the plight of the world’s poor, but also to alert us to the reality that she and her generation fully expect the world to accept and respect the rights that the Convention was designed to guarantee children when it was signed 20 years ago.
I immediately thought of another deceptively powerful speaker who had made a great impression on me a few years earlier. Eunice Kennedy Shriver appeared frail and weak when she took the stage at a gala in her honor at the World Special Olympics Games in Shanghai, China.
I really didn’t know what to expect from the legendary woman, who as the founder of the Special Olympics had done so much during her lifetime to advance the care and rights of the mentally challenged. In a way, it didn’t seem fair to put such an elderly, fragile woman in front of a microphone before such a large crowd.
But from the moment Mrs. Shriver began to speak, my fear for her fragility and all of my preconceptions disappeared. She spoke for several minutes, without notes, and left us with words I think of often, and will likely never forget. “When you stand up for something you love, bring your passion, bring your love, but bring something else with you as well … bring your anger.”
Those were the words that came to mind when hearing young Millicent speak at the United Nations. She brought her passion and love onto that U.N. stage, but she also brought a little bit of that anger Eunice Kennedy Shriver spoke of. Not an empty, destructive anger that can be easily turned to hate — but an anger that lets us know that this next generation of leaders will expect the world to keep the promises made to its most vulnerable children.
The commemoration ceremony ended with an engaging panel discussion on some of the challenges facing those vulnerable children. Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, was part of the discussion. After listening to him for a couple of minutes, my wife turned to me and said, “I really like his style.” I smiled and told her that I was pretty sure he got it from his mother.
Tim mentioned that he thought the most dramatic changes in the developing world were going to come from a future generation of leaders demanding change from within.
I think I got a little glimpse of the future on that stage at the United Nations…and I am encouraged by the direction the winds of change might take.