Heroes Wanted

Documentary film maker Len Morris is this year’s winner of the Department of Labor’s Iqbal Masih award.  Morris received this honor for raising global awareness of the plight of child laborers through his films Stolen Childhoods, which explores child labor in eight countries and Rescuing Emmanuel, the story of a Kenyan street child. 

The Iqbal Masih Award recognizes extraordinary effort, leadership, and courage, in combating child labor.  It pays tribute to the legacy of a child named Iqbal Masih.  When he was just four years old, Iqbal was sold into slavery as a carpet weaver in Pakistan, chained to a loom, forced to work 14 hours a day, and barely given enough food to survive. 

Deputy Undersecretary Sandra Polaski presents documentary film maker Len Morris with the Department of Labor’s 2012 Iqbal Masih award.

Iqbal escaped at the age of 12 and became an advocate for children’s rights around the world.   In 1994, Iqbal received the Reebok Human Rights Award for his courageous efforts to combat child exploitation and abuse.  But tragically at the age of 13, he was killed by an unknown gunman while riding his bike in his native Pakistan. 

For the past two years, the Department of Labor has honored others whose extraordinary work embodies the spirit and values of Iqbal Masih.  Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda of the Philippines received the Iqbal Masih award in 2010.  Her leadership and tireless advocacy helped secure passage of the Philippines’ first law to protect the rights and prevent the exploitation of domestic workers, including children. 

The  2011 award went to the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL).  FAWUL overcame enormous obstacles, rallied international support, and organized workers on the Firestone Rubber Plantation.  The union won new safeguards against child labor, and a commitment to provide children on the plantation with a quality education.

Every year we will seek new heroes – those who have shown courage and integrity, made a difference in the lives of exploited child laborers, and taken extraordinary steps to help them.  We invite you to get involved. 

Please nominate an individual, organization, or government that you feel deserves this honor.

For more information on the Iqbal Masih Award, the nomination process, or to receive updates about next year’s award, please send your name and contact information to Iqbal.Masih.Award@dol.gov 

Sandra Polaski is the Deputy Undersecretary of the Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

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Rwanda Knits is a program supporting women and other survivors of the genocide in achieving economic freedom for themselves and their families.

Cari Clement, the founder, was the inventor of a particular kind of knitting machine (one that could knit heavy yarn). When she sold her invention to Caron International, Cari donated part of the proceeds (in the form of knitting machines) and began the first knitting cooperatives in Rwanda.

Patrick Nimbuoma is the current Director of the organization. You can read more of their history at http://www.rwandaknits.org/about.html

I first heard about Rwanda Knits on Walter Turner's show called "Africa Traditions" broadcast on KPFA radio (http://www.kpfa.org/)

I have done volunteer work in the past for Rwanda Knits and for Ingenzi, one of their sister organizations.

I strongly encourage all reader to check out the Rwanda Knits website as the story is really inspiring and will hopefully help more people to get involved. It would be great if more individuals took something from the story and did what they could to help the cause.

Thank you for keeping a spot light on this issue

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