By Rubkwan Tharmmapornphilas, Ph.D., Child Labor Coalition Intern Rubkwan is a child labor public policy intern at the National Consumers League. She is a Ph.D. graduate from Columbia University and a Thai Government Scholarship recipient. Her doctoral thesis was on the determinants of child labor in Thailand, where she will return to work as a government officer in the Ministry of Education once her internship is completed.
Do you know someone who is invisible? No, I don’t mean Kevin Bacon in “Hollow Man” or Jessica Alba in “Fantastic Four.” I mean a person who could easily disappear one day and no one would notice. If not, then let me introduce 13-year-old “Emmanuel,” one of the world’s 140 million street kids—“throw away” children who are left to fend for themselves in city slums around the globe.
In the compelling documentary film “Rescuing Emmanuel” (released in 2008), Len and Georgia Morris followed the life of street kids in Kenya, Brazil, Mexico, India, Indonesia and the United States. These children have no birth certificate, ID card, money, home, or family. They live on the margins, neglected and ignored by communities, societies, and government. Emmanuel and his friends struggle to survive day by day, working, begging, stealing, and selling their bodies. Hunger, violence, abuse, drugs, crime, HIV, and other diseases are common in their daily lives.
The street children are in desperate need of a better life, and they seize any tiny bit of opportunity. In the case of Emmanuel, he stole Glen and Georgia’s attention by shouting in broken English, “I want to go to school right now!”
Touched by Emmanuel and his demand, the Morrises decide they must act and help him. They place him in Huruma Children’s Home, founded by Mama Zipporah and home to 150 abandoned and abused kids.
Although it might seem hopeless to help just one kid while millions of others are still out there on streets, the Morris’s action reminds me of Loren Eiseley’s “The Star Thrower”, the story about a person walking on the beach who encounters stranded starfish and decides to save some of them by throwing them back in the sea. When asked why he is saving a handful of starfish when thousands more will go unsaved—whether, in fact, his actions are really making a difference, the Good Samaritan throws one more starfish into the sea and says, “ I made a difference to that one.”
“Rescuing Emmanuel” shows us just how vulnerable children are in many parts of the world. It’s a haunting story but one that needs to be witnessed.
Ordering information for “Rescuing Emmanuel” may be found at http://store.galenfilms.com. Galen Films also produced “Stolen Childhoods” (2003), a wonderful feature- length examination of child labor around the world.