Who Tells Your Story: Ashley & Alvin
Wrongs will be righted, if we're united.
Let us seize the day!
There was a moment in the The Muny's production of Newsies two summers ago that, to this day, hasn't left my mind. As the actors on stage posed for a photo and the flash went off, an aged, black and white photograph suddenly appeared on the backdrop behind them. But in contrast to the actors I was seeing on stage, the individuals that I saw in this photograph were much younger...children, in fact.
As I stared at the photo from my seat in audience, I remember thinking to myself, "I know those kids." While I didn't actually "know" those exact kids, they reminded me of some that I did. They reminded me of so many kids I had met and come across during my time in Nicaragua; kids who harvest coffee and sugarcane, kids who herd cattle and sheep, kids who wash windows and perform at stoplights, kids who rummage through trash to find things to recycle, and kids who sell gum, fruit and newspapers in the streets.
I knew going into this production that Newsies was based on a true story, but it wasn't until that photograph flashed, that I was truly reminded of that reality. Although Newsies recounts events that took place over a century ago, the story and its messages are still relevant to today.
All across this city there are boys and girls who ought to be out playin' or going to school. Instead they're slavin' to support themselves and their folks.
It is estimated that there are more than 152 million child labourers in the world today and almost half of those child labourers are between the ages of 5 and 11. The International Labour Organization defines child labour as "work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development." There are many different causes of child labour but in most developing countries, like Nicaragua, the root cause is poverty. Unemployment and the need to survive often lead families to make desperate decisions, oftentimes to the detriment of children.
It would not be uncommon or out of the ordinary to see brothers like Ashley and Alvin (12 and 9 years old, center of the photo) with machetes in hand, heading off to work in the fields with their father. In fact, in a rural community like Villa Catalina (where we shoot all the photographs for this series), no one would even bat an eye. The cycle of poverty that is perpetuated by a lack of quality and compulsory education, stacks the odds against children living in rural Nicaragua from the get go and robs many of them the childhood and future that they deserve.
While it is hard to break the cycle, it is not impossible, and fortunately for Ashley and Alvin, they have parents that want something different for their children. "My husband and I both worked when we were children. He worked in the fields with his dad and I worked cleaning houses." Ashley and Alvin's mom explains to me. "We don't want them to have the same childhood we had. Childhood should be a time to play and learn. Once you pass childhood, you can't go back. You only get one childhood."
There's change coming once and for all.
Today, June 12th, is World Day Against Child Labour which is a day to "bring together governments, employers and workers organizations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child labourers and what can be done to help them." The truth is that we can all do our part to help end child labour. While it is vital that governments write and enforce laws to protect children, it is also important that we, as individuals, educate ourselves on the things we can do in our daily lives to help stop the cycle of child labour in our own countries and around the world. Unlike the children who are portrayed in Newsies who had to stand up for themselves, we need to be standing up for these children. It is not their battle to fight, it is ours.
The theme for this year's World Day Against Child Labour is "Children shouldn't work in fields, but on dreams!" and as an organization whose focus is on teaching young people to dream outside their circumstances, we couldn't agree more! We must do everything we can to ensure that every child gets the childhood they deserve, one that is filled with lots of laughter, play, creativity, learning and dreams!
Behind the photo:
Shooting this photo was incredibly fun not only because of the young boys who brought these Newsies characters to life in front of the camera but also because of all the people who were behind-the-scenes with us! Our friend, Tennyson Jones, who has been a part of our organization for years, joined us on the shoot and helped to keep the boys entertained with games as we waited to shoot the photo. Jane Jourdan from Fit For Broadway was also with us and not only did she teach the boys some choreography from the show, she also called her friend, Daniel Quadrino (who was in the Broadway cast of Newsies) and introduced him to the boys. We're so grateful to everyone who made this shoot so special!
And once again, thank you to our amazing photographer, Edgard Buenas, who never ceases to amaze us with his creativity and talent.
Take a look behind-the-scene of our Newsies-inspired photo!