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May 10, 2005

The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child

Living Room Dialogue with Idalmin Santana

This was NPD 's first intergenerational Living Room Dialogue, and the 20 guests were very pleased to meet Idalmin Santana, age 14, and to hear her report on her recent trip to Sweden. The daughter of an incarcerated mother, Idalmin was invited to Sweden last year as a representative of children with experiences like hers. This year she was selected to served on an international jury that awarded The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child (WCPRC). Laura Fernandez, director of the Incarcerated Mothers Program in New York, accompanied Idalmin to Sweden and supported her in this Living Room Dialogue presentation about her trip.

The prizes for rights of the child were created by the Children's World Association of Sweden which consists of some of the country's largest humanitarian organizations. The program has the backing of the Swedish government, and the WCPRC also collaborates with organizations and government ministries, etc., in a large number of countries.

The prize ceremony is held at Gripsholm Castle in the small Swedish town of Mariefred in Mid-April of every year. HRM Queen Silvia of Sweden helps out in presenting the prizes. In addition to the World's Children's Prize, a Global Friends Award goes to the winners of an election conducted throughout the world in schools and other organizations for children. Laura spoke about how impressive she found it that children all over the world discuss the serious issues confronting children during these elections. Some children were voting in places where elections of any kind are unknown. This year 2.4 million children in 75 countries voted to select Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, from South Africa and Mozambique respectively, as laureates of the Global Friend´s Award.

Idalmin spoke about her experience as one of 15 jurors sitting at a big table debating on which of three candidates for the World's Children's Prize should be chosen. Each of the children was from a different country and each represented a different issue, for instance slave labor, child abuse, sex trafficking, HIV/AIDS. There were translators because so many languages were being spoken. Idalmin was glad she could speak two languages, English and Spanish, which was a help.

Even though they couldn't speak one another's languages, during their free time the children managed to communicate with one another. They used sign language sometimes and taught each other things; Idalmin learned an Indian dance, for example.

The programs or individuals the jury had to chose between were The Mothers of St. Ritas, a group of 20 mothers in Kenya who help children orphaned by AIDS; Ana Maria Maranon de Bohorquez of Cochabamba, Bolivia who creates homes for street children; Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel for promoting children's rights and helping children in need. Laura said the jurors asked very good questions about the programs in their debates. They eventually chose The Mothers of St. Ritas.

When the winners were announced, it was interesting to for Idalmin to find out what it's like to become a celebrity. In school, all Swedish children have studied the magazine Globen which has articles about children in the programs being nominated and have participated in the election for the Global Friends Award. In a tour of some schools after the prizes were announced, children asked informed and thoughtful questions. Afterwards Idalmin was besieged by children pushing and fighting to get her autograph. They wanted her to sing "Candy Shop." They also wanted her e-mail address, and now she's opening about 25 e-mails every day.

Idalmin talked about some of the children that especially impressed her, such as Xola, who is educating people about HIV/AIDS in South Africa. All the children were trying to change the world by telling their stories. She also learned from the behavior of some children, such as the boy from Uganda who passed by food at meal-time because he didn't want to get used to eating. So many of the stories that she heard were sad, it was hard not to feel really bad sometimes. But still children smile, sing, and dance. They found joy in their connections with one another. At farewells, all the children were crying and hugging one another.

Idalmin was asked how these experiences have changed her. She said she doesn't have a big secret any more and she gets to show that not everybody's perfect. Last year her story appeared in Teen People magazine. She has three little sisters growing up behind her who can see her moving forward with her life and she wants to be an example for them. She went through a lot bad things, but now, as a result of her experiences in a foster home, in the Incarcerated Mothers Program and on this trip, she has stopped being shy. She can go to Albany and speak out about the Rockefeller Drug Laws. She doesn't have it all inside any more.

Asked if she would be willing to speak to other children in New York, she said she would be glad to. Already, girls in her school come to her for advice. She tells them you can't stop going because you have a problem. You never know when something good might come. Her goals are to become a lawyer for children, starting with those who have had problems similar to hers. She wants to travel to different countries and explore children's issues around the world. She particularly wants to go to South Africa.

Idalmin was appreciative of the adults who came to this Living Room Dialogue to hear her story. Her experience is that adults don't listen to children and therefore miss all the good ideas and recommendations children have. In the Network for Peace group she found people who do care and will listen. The adults present were most impressed with Idalmin's poise and confidence, not to mention the courage and determination with which she is conducting her life.


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