Bruce Harris is the Executive Director of Covenant House Central America, and the leading advocate for street children in the region
you give me a sense of what you hope this event achieves?
have so many human rights defenders together is a catalystic process.
We want to bring about change to the world. This is a forum where
hopefully we can get more people involved in bringing about fundamental
changes. We need to look at it simply. We shouldn't be willing
to accept any level of human rights different from how we want
our own children to live. Do we want our children to suffer? To
be hungry? Of course not. So why are we willing to latantly accept
that, even if we're talking about children on the other side of
is nominally in a time of prosperity and peace. How do we reach
out and touch Americans, and make them aware of what you see everyday?
It's very comfortable not to see what is going on the other side
of the world. It's too easy to think that it's so far away you
can't do anything about it, when in fact the world is so interconnected.
We don't have to go outside America to look for poverty of children
either. Twenty-five percent of children in the United States live
in poverty. So if everyone says, "Charity begins at home,"
I have no problem with that. Let's begin with poor children in
America. But America also needs to understand that a country cannot
survive in isolation anymore. And no matter how tall you build
the walls around the border, and how big a dike you build between
here and Mexico, if there's not more equity, more social justice
in the world, people will come. And people from Latin America,
for example, don't come to the United States because they want
to come to the United States. They are looking in desperation
for a means of survival.
did you meet Kerry Kennedy Cuomo?
met Kerry in Guatemala at the beginning of the 1990s when the
first real struggles to protect children's rights in Guatemala
started. It started around the killing of thirteen-year-old Nahaman,
a street boy in Guatemala City who was literally kicked to death
by four uniformed policemen. It affected me greatly. I'd never
seen a dead child before, and there was an incredible indifference
of society towards the death of this child. When we started raising
our voices, the police chief in Guatemala City said, "You
are making too much fuss about just one child." I figured
something was not right. We took a road that, had we known then
the problems we were going to encounter on the way, we may well
have decided that there's not a lot we can do. But when you're
faced with a particular situation, you have to react. I never
set out to be a human right's defender. It's not a career path
that people take. It's just something that happens along the way.
You're faced with situations and you're forced into dealing with
them. If we're talking about heroes, we should be talking about
us a little about the young man who accompanied you on this trip.
Jonathan is fifteen years old, a great kid. He's overwhelmed about
coming to America. He's only seen America on the big movie screen.
It's such a contrast. He's come from the bottom of the pile in
Guatemala. He was living on the street. He was affected by the
exploitation, the abuse. He was sniffing glue as a way to suppress
his feelings of cold, of loneliness. But he's shown a tremendous
resilience to bounce back. And while there is a lot of tragedy
on the streets of Latin America, there is also a lot of hope.
Jonathan, like all the kids, reflect that hopethat desire
to be connected, to belong to a family, to a support group. He
now has the luxury to dream and to go to school.
you told him you were going to make this trip, what was his reaction?
he was really excited. It's like letting a child loose in a candy
store. He asked twice to see if it was true.
thought you were joking?
He felt we were joking.
he have one wish, a request to see anything or do anything specific?
Last night we went to the White House, and we were standing outside
in the dark looking through the fence. He couldn't believe that
this was the White House. He had heard about the White
House and it was neat just to step back and watch him watch. Like
any child of fifteen, he dreams, and he looks and he learns. Street
kids are no different than our own children. As people we should
not be willing to accept anything less for any child, than we
would be willing to accept for our own kids.
mentioned that you went to the White House last night and you
will have an opportunity to meet the President. What would you
want to convey, even in that short moment, to the President of
the United States?
don't think any leader should tolerate so many people, especially
children, who are suffering. Any leader should use all the power
that is available to him or her to stop that suffering.
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