In my previous post I presented the entire speech made by Principal Donna Hayward to the 2014 graduating class of Suffield High School in Suffield, CT. While the whole commencement address is powerful, I want to highlight this extraordinary example of strength and courage. May the actions of Iqbal Masih and a group of Canadian 12-year-old children move us to use the gifts of strength and courage however we can, in ways large and small, day by day. Thank you again, Donna, for permission to share your words.
“…This year, I also learned the story of a young boy named Iqbal Masih and his story illustrates how each of us can fight injustice in our own way in our own world. Iqbal was a young Pakistani boy, who was sold into bondage by his parents at the age of four in order to pay off a debt of what amounted to about $16. He worked for years, chained to a weaving loom, fashioning the tiny knots in Pakistani rugs with his small fingers. Although he worked alongside dozens of other children with the same fate, somehow Iqbal felt inside himself a flame of injustice and rebelled against it at the age of ten by running away from his master. When he did, he happened upon an activist in the village square, making a speech about how child slavery had been outlawed – a surprise to Iqbal – and the young boy told a police officer standing nearby that he, in fact, was a child slave. He led the officer back to his master, anticipating justice. Instead, the officer was bribed by the slave owner and left Iqbal behind – the boy facing a cruel punishment instead of the justice he sought. But Iqbal had courage and strength and soon ran away again, this time finding the man who had given the speech in the village square. He brought the activist back to his master, and this man couldn’t be bought or silenced so all the children in Iqbal’s factory were freed. Iqbal joined the Bonded Labour Liberation Front and became famous because he continued his crusade, actually sneaking into other child-slave-shops, gaining the trust of the children and then triggering a raid on the outfit by the liberation group, freeing over 3,000 children in all. Eventually, he visited other countries, including the U.S., to tell his story and advocate for justice in ending childhood slavery. Ultimately, however, Iqbal was murdered when he returned to Pakistan to visit his family. He was only 12 years old.
News of his death and his story inspired others, including a group of 12 year olds in Canada who formed ‘Free the Children’, an organization that continues today empowering youth to become socially engaged. If 10-year old Iqbal with absolutely no resources could fight against injustice, what’s to stop you? If a group of 12-year olds in Canada can start an organization that within a decade had constructed 500 schools, what can you do at 18, or at 25 or 44?”