Kids acting for a better world

An exhibition was opened at Budapest’s Katona József Theatre on December 5, 2013, displaying the works of school children. Each of the creations, on show until January 31, is inspired by a UNICEF photo, depicting some of the most pressing issues of our time: child poverty, starvation, environment protection and sustainable development.

Before you continue reading, I encourage you to watch the enclosed video (see link on the right). A picture is worth a thousand words, and to absorb this article, you need to be prepped: prepared for a severe shock – similar to how I felt during the opening of the exhibition entitled ‘Children in international development - The Millennium Development Goals through children’s eyes.’

What exactly are the Millennium Development Goals?

In 2000, eight Millennium Development Goals were initiated by 189 UN member states, which thus dedicated themselves to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, promoting environmental sustainability, and making global partnerships in the interest of development.

The decisions we make
We intend to ignore bad things until they happen – it is human behavior. But somewhere in the back of our minds we know that the world can get ugly. We may fight this knowledge, by not watching TV, and filtering our other information channels. This way, we feel much more in control. Surely we have the right to decide what fits our comfort zone. For instance, I never thought that visiting the latest World Press Photo Exhibition would tackle my tolerance limit. Well, I was wrong. While I was lingering amidst images showing torture, pain and suffering, a friend fled from the scene because she couldn’t bear the sight. “Our world has multiple faces, there is beauty and love too,” she argued and I could see her disappointment: She bought her ticket for a drama, and faced a horror movie instead. Nonetheless, I say that raising awareness is a good and useful way of changing the world for the better. I can understand the people who choose to fight against discrimination, and say that scratching the surface is just not enough. But the thing is that we aren’t all Mother Theresa. I’d like to believe that little things do matter and can sometimes contribute to the greater good. This might be a key message of the event organized at the Katona József Theatre. The other message was that our children should not be kept in the dark either – and this time I don’t mean the kids who are literally kept in the dark due to child abduction or because they live in a military zone. This time I mean our own beloved children, who have the chance of growing up, because we look after them, feed them, and take them to school. There’s a scene in the movie entitled ‘New Year’s Eve,’ where Hailey, a teenage girl who is willing to go to Time Square to celebrate with her friends, says to her mom who’s very against the idea: Don’t you trust me? Her mum says it is the world she doesn’t trust. “I want to start living in the world.” Hailey answers. Indeed, our kids will grow up and the time will come when we won’t be there to hold their hands. So shall we protect them by cutting off their information channels, too? UNICEF thinks otherwise: children’s participation must be ensured in matters which affect them.

On set
In 2013, the Foundation for Development of Democratic Rights (DemNet), along with the UNICEF Hungarian National Committee and the Visual World Foundation initiated a joint program called ‘Participation of Children in International Development - Millennium Development Goals through Children's Eyes.’ The works of art were made based on 16 photos provided by UNICEF. 230 students, between the age of 11 and 18, participated in the two-month-long project, assisted by their teachers. Part of the project was for the kids to add their own drawings and other creative ideas to the photos they received, thinking beyond the scenario captured in the original picture. The methodology of the program was developed by the Visual World Foundation (VWF). “We have been striving to build relationships and value-creating cooperation through creative media education projects and by making films among people who often do not communicate with each other properly due to their different cultural or social background, or maybe because of their different physical abilities, and who do not know or support each other,” notes Zsuzsanna Kozák on behalf of VWF. “It was important that the children and their teachers involved in this project came from a truly different and very international background,” she continues, naming those eight schools that finally participated, such as the American International School of Budapest, the Duráczky József Primary School and Counselling Center for Special Needs Education from Kaposvár, the Egressy Béni Primary Arts School from Mezôcsát, the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School, Budapest, the Hungarian-Chinese Bilingual Primary School, the Primary and Secondary School to the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Budapest, the Primary School and Boarding School of the Visually Impaired, Budapest and the Secondary School of Arts from Szombathely. According to Kozák, during the process, students were able to learn new things about the world, find new means of self-expression, experience the joy of brainstorming, debate constructively, while they slowly but surely all became aware of their opportunities and responsibility in solving the major problems impacting the Earth. “As a result, sensitive and mature artworks were born.” As I was watching the children step on stage to introduce their works and ideas, I realized that they did understand the deepness of the project. Another shock came when two actors of the theatre, Hanna Pálos and Ervin Nagy, the latter being a UNICEF supporter, jumped on stage following each team, to capture the pure essence of the themes the children worked with, which are also the so-called ‘Millennium Development Goals’. How to describe the eight 1-minute shows? Well, the actors did not speak much, and managed to leave the audience speechless, sometimes in tears, sometimes in bursts of laughter.
“We hope that the international dialogue initiated by this program and the experience gained during the joint research and creative work will contribute to strengthening a young generation which thinks consciously, responsibly, bravely and benevolently,” Kozák adds. A number of diplomats attended the event at the theatre, and participated the show, including Lyakhov Valery Minister-Counsellor from the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Xiaoguang GUO, Counsellor at the Cultural Affairs Department of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, and Gergô Sántha, RELO assistant at the US Embassy. The moderator of the event was the future Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF Hungarian National Committee, Krisztina D. Tóth, who noted that the project can be developed further, and as of January 31, the exhibition material can be invited as a traveling exhibition to other institutions and to any country of the world.

Background info
In February 2011, the DemNet Foundation and its three partners (People in Need, Czech Republic; the Polish Humanitarian Organization, Poland; and the Slovak Non-Governmental Development Platform, Slovakia) launched a three-year project, V4Aid, which was financed by the European Union. The objective of the project is to promote international development cooperation, poverty focused development policy, and the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. The exhibition at the theatre was organized within the framework of the V4Aid project of the DemNet Foundation, with the financial support of the European Union and with the professional support of the DemNet Foundation.

Réka Alíz Francisck

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