The NEW DESIGN Interview

NEW DESIGN: We're talking to Amanda and Amy, who are two of the organizers of the The Kids' Campaign to Build a School for Iqbal, and Mr. Ron Adams, who is the teacher involved. Now in high school, Amy and Amanda return to Broad Meadows to follow through on the campaign they helped start three years ago while seventh graders. So let me ask you, how did you get involved in this project?

AMANDA: Well, my teachers told us about Iqbal Masih coming to visit America because he won one of the Reebok human rights awards. It's an action award and Iqbal was being an activist in his country, trying to help other children escape from bonded labor. And after he came to our school and told us his story about how he had escaped from bonded labor, he asked for help, and we said we would.

Iqbal at Broad Meadows

AMY:I just felt it was very wrong that children are being sold into slavery. So I joined the campaign. And then after Iqbal died, I just was so angry at it that it gave me an urge to do more.

ND: What kind of help was Iqbal asking you for?

AMANDA: Just to educate people and try to get them to stop buying rugs from other countries that use children to make rugs.

ND: So what about grabbed you?

AMANDA: When Iqbal came to our school, he was 12 and he was a small kid, about four feet tall, and came up to my shoulder. He was brave enough to sit in front of all these people he didn't even know and tell us his story about how he had escaped bonded labor. He said one thing that really got to me. He said that the carpet owners told the children that Americans are the ones making them do this. And he said, "I'm glad that I came here and didn't find people with little horns and tails sticking out their backs " He thought we were little devils at first. Here was this kid talking kid to kid who felt so much toward what he was doing, he was like burning fire, you can't just say, "Oh, okay, great. Good job. Bye-bye now." You just look at him and say, "I want to help."

ND: When you got involved, what did you first do?

AMANDA: Well, the first thing that we did, when we heard about GATT [General Agreement on Tariff and Trade], was Jen and I wrote letters to the senators who were voting and asked if GATT were approved, would it encourage or discourage child-bonded labor. And since we had E-mail, which was brand new to us, we decided to use it. We probably wrote about eight letters to senators and we got a couple responses. Senator [Edward] Kennedy was real into it. He wrote back saying, "I've been working on this." Ever since we wrote him, he's been helping us out.

RON: It was actually quite interesting to see two girls stay after school to send E-mail messages to United States senators, to lobby them before they vote, in preparation for a guest speaker from Pakistan, who was 12 years old. You're not going to treat children this way. I think that was the chord that was struck. Child to child. A chord I don't think adults could have reached.

ND:So then what was your next step?

AMANDA: We just basically were educating people in the beginning. We'd write letters to people we knew and we'd say, "We met this kid in school. He came to our school from another country, and he told us about what he'd gone through." And then we would send those letters out. Most of the people that I wrote to wrote back and said, "That's really interesting, how can I help you guys?"

AMY: In the beginning, we wrote letters and called local carpet stores and local government officials, making them aware of the situation and asking the carpet stores if the rugs there were made with or without child bonded labor. And we just made the government officials aware of the situation and asked them to sort of publicize it, spread the word about it and stuff. And we spoke to schools about child-bonded labor. When we called the carpet stores, it didn't go over very well. They were really sort of rude.

AMANDA: They even called the school and said, "Stop having your children call."

AMY: Yeah, we didn't harass them or anything. We would only call a store once. But a lot of them were like, "Don't harass us. Go away. You'll make us lose business."

ND: How did that make you feel about what you were doing?

AMY: It made us feel like they knew that they were doing something wrong. And they were just covering up for it. We felt bad in a way that we didn't accomplish anything, but in another way we felt pleased because we knew that our point was taken.

ND: Were there people who came to your support?

AMY: Yes. The principal and the superintendent and everybody said they have every right in the world to do it. They're not being rude. So, it made us feel good.

RON: One of the keys to the success of the children's campaign is they spread the word to a lot of people, including the building principal and the superintendent. So, in informing those people from the very beginning, when the complaints started to come from the carpet store managers, the principal said, "What exactly are these kids doing? They're asking you a question? I'll never stop students from asking questions." So we had that kind of support from the superintendent and the building principal.

Two of the boys also wrote to the city's mayor. Basically they wanted to know, "What is the city of Quincy's policy on buying carpets?" And he took us so seriously the mayor was moved to write a letter to Madeleine Albright at the UN saying that he'd just learned from Quincy students that this situation is going on and it's intolerable. And after making that statement he said that he was now advising our city's purchasing agent that no carpets can be purchased for the city of Quincy without his personal approval. In other words, there's a new policy in place in Quincy because of these kids. They're not going to buy carpets unless they know they're child-labor free.

AMY: And there's been lots of support. A lot of the celebrities and government people wrote letters of support to us. Peter Gabriel and Michael Stipe each donated one high speed modem for our campaign. That was a boost. Amnesty International, in cooperation with Mirror Image, set up our web site for us for free, and maintain it for free. If we want to put anything up on it, we just send them the stuff or they come pick it up scan it, and it's there. Lots of people supported us. Governor Weld, the mayor of Quincy, the superintendent of Quincy, our parents, the President, the Prime Minister, REM, Aerosmith, Jimmy Carter.

RON: All of a sudden these children are working shoulder to shoulder with policy makers, and I think that gave them the confidence. They needed some support. They needed to know that what they were doing was important, and that they were right in taking a stand.

AMANDA: The early support helped us out a lot.

ND: Was there some support that stood out for you, that really made a difference for you? That made you feel stronger?

AMANDA: Senator Kennedy. I've always looked up at JFK. He's my favorite. I used to live in Oregon, so when I came out here [to Massachusetts] I got to go to the Kennedy Library and all of a sudden I see "Senator Kennedy." I was all excited. That was probably the biggest thing that helped support me.

ND: What support meant the most to you, Amy?

AMY: Probably from my classmates and the teacher. If the kids appreciate what you're doing, that's a big thing because usually kids don't take that much interest in what other kids are doing. It's easy for parents to say, "Oh, they're doing a good job." But if your peers acknowledge that, that's something different. And to gain the respect of them meant a lot to me. The teachers supported us, too. I mean, I'd skip lunch with permission and go get some telephone books in the office and call up carpet stores. And I remember getting out of classes to write letters. Stuff like that.

AMANDA: By the time Iqbal returned to Pakistan we wrote 670 letters to the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for Iqbal to bring back with him.

RON: There are 340 children in this school, so that's quite an accomplishment. They did this before or after school. So right from the very beginning, students were moved to take action and to do it on their own time, not for homework, not because they had teachers telling them to, but because their heart was telling them to do it. And they found the time and the adult support that they needed.

AMANDA:I remember nagging the teachers. "Can we go down to the cafeteria during class?" Instead of playing games we'd want to go down and write letters.

RON: That's true, we set up the cafeteria one day as a special letter-writing day. Teachers who wanted to could bring their classes down and they could write letters on behalf of Iqbal to heads of governments.

ND:How did you get so many young people to join your campaign?

AMY: We got a lot of our friends to join and by word of mouth they got their friends to join. In the morning, we'd write letters to the government officials and, after we started the campaign, letters to donors thanking them. If kids had nothing else to do in the morning, they'd come in and write letters. You know, get out of the cold. Or if they had nothing to do after school and they wanted to come to a meeting there's Cokes, there's chips, they'd come. And they slowly got into it. There's nothing forced. You come when you want to. You're not obligated to do anything.

ND: Why do you think they did it then?

AMY: I think maybe because it's been so much a part of the curriculum at Broad Meadows. In seventh grade, we studied the Industrial Revolution and Abraham Lincoln and the slaves. A lot of it is about human rights. So the campaign ties into every subject.

RON: About ten years ago, our city started to change. We went from being 99% white to having 30% of our students newcomers from South Asia. So I wrote a grant saying I thought that it would be in our best interest to be proactive and not reactive and try and adapt the curriculum to the changes and put in a human rights education component to increase tolerance and respect. These students studied the Bill of Rights in grade six, then in grade seven they looked at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those two documents alone contain the ideals of human behavior. So once they're armed with that knowledge, I thought it would make sense to challenge them to look around their community or the nation or the state or the world and look for examples where people are not living up to those ideals. Then write a letter to someone somewhere, who might be able to help end whatever injustice you've just discovered. The kids usually would say, "How do I know who to write a letter to? What am I supposed to write a letter about?" And I would say, "You'll know. You've got all year long to write one perfect business letter." It's part of the curriculum that you have to write a business letter. So you can either do the one in the grammar book or you can just look around and your heart will tell you. Someday you'll see something on the news, you'll hear about it, you'll read it and when that happens you'll say, "That's not fair." That's when you'll know, "Yup, that's what I'm writing my letter about." So from that platform, students write letters to try to change things. That was where we started to look at human rights education as a way to channel youthful idealism into activism.

ND: That reminds me a little bit of the ecology expression, "Think globally, act locally."

RON: We're asking them to act locally and act globally as well. To do both. So they had been energized by Iqbal's visit and now they were actively researching more about child labor in the United States, as well as in Pakistan or India. So there were all kinds of spinoffs that were happening. I would say probably another several hundred other letters were written. They were using E-mail to spread the word to other middle schools.

ND:How did your school get chosen for Iqbal's visit?

RON: Iqbal's credited with encouraging 1,000 children to run to freedom and leave bonded labor. So in recognition of that, he was being flown to the United States by Reebok to receive an international human rights award and the ceremony was going to be in Boston. And Reebok was looking for a school in the area where there were kids the same age as Iqbal, but who had some experience with human rights. And they did their research and they came up with our school's name. Through Amnesty International in Washington, DC, in their computer files, our school was listed as having done some pretty big stuff on a local level. They've tackled local problems within this neighborhood, within this city, and they've also taken on some international human rights campaigns.

Iqbal at Broad Meadows

ND: Tell us about Iqbal's visit to Broad Meadows.

AMANDA: We had a U-shape of two rows of students with seventh and eighth graders. Then we met here [in Mr. Adam's classroom], then we went upstairs to the library and had another group of students that met with him also. After that he came down and we ate lunch. Actually he didn't eat until everybody was gone. Everybody was standing on tables trying to see him because he was so small. We had everybody crowded around him, and everybody brought in a gift. Everybody smuggled him gum because he loved it. He was just chompin' on that gum walking around the school. We had a backpack for him, we had a T-shirt, he had probably 500 packs of gum in that thing. Everybody brought him something a little unique, you know, bracelet, letters, stickers. I brought him little worry people that you put under your pillow. And I gave him stickers, and gum, and bracelets. Everybody just brought him some thing really personal, and he loved it. Hot cocoa. Minute Rice. He had everything.

RON: It was almost like a little reception. These students were all supposed to be sitting at their tables eating lunch, but everybody just gravitated over to him and a sort of informal reception line formed. It was amazing how heart to heart it was. Kids presenting kid to kid a little token, a little souvenir of your visit to Quincy, a Smurf, or a package of baseball cards. I was really touched by the compassion that these kids demonstrated.

ND:So nobody prepared them for this?

RON: Nobody organized it. I was surprised. Even the backpack, a group of kids got together and pooled their money and one of their mothers took them out and bought the backpack. But no one else knew except that small group of kids. The backpack turned out to be a great idea because he had a whole table full of all this stuff. We heard later, that when he was back in Pakistan, some of the items he got from the school he had taped over his bed on his walls, the pictures kids gave him.

ND: And when he returned to Pakistan, was that when he was killed?

AMANDA: It was the 16th of April, Easter Sunday, and Iqbal had been shot and killed riding his bike in front of his grandmother's house in Pakistan. And I didn't know about it. I heard about it from my friend Jen. She liked to play tricks on me on my answering machine. When she called me I thought she was joking and I said, "That is a cruel joke." So I had to call her back. I said, "That's not even funny, why are you playing like that." She said, "I'm not. It's serious." And I still didn't believe her. So I went over to her house and my other friend, who lives across from her, delivers the papers, and on the front page, I saw the story and I just looked at it in shock. I was like, "No way. There's no way." But you couldn't really feel anything. You're just shocked. Why would somebody want to kill a 12-year old?

AMY:I was over at my friend's house and my mom called me and told me that she saw it in the paper. I was just sort of shocked. I mean, I couldn't believe it. Iqbal knew that if he went back to Pakistan after America that he would be killed, but he wanted to go back to his family. I think no one really believed it until it happened. It took us a week or so to get over it and then we bounced into action.

AMANDA: It made us so mad.

AMY: It changed my anger and grief into determination and motivation.

RON: The next morning a parent called me and asked if the school was going to be open today. I said, "It can't be open. It's Patriots Day in Massachusetts. They're running the marathon this morning, the Red Sox are playing the Tigers. No way. Why?" "Well," she said, "some of the kids are talking about going to school to figure out what to do." I happen to be the track coach and we had practice all week anyway, so I was able to get into the school. About how many kids wound up at the school, would you say?

AMANDA: About 20 or 30. We all held hands and had a moment of silence and talked about what Iqbal asked us, refreshed our memories, and then got fired up again. And we just took off this time.

ND: What did you do?

AMY: Well, after something happens Mr. Adams will have us write down what we think. And a lot of kids wrote down since Iqbal wanted everybody to be free, have an education, and not be at the carpet looms, a way to commemorate him would be to build a school. Children should be free to have an education at a school and not be working in the carpet looms.

AMANDA:So we were sitting there writing and writing and Amy looked up, "Why don't we build a school in Pakistan?" I said, "What? Yeah, right." And she says, "No really, why don't we build a school?" I was like, "Yeah! We do have E-mail, you know. We can send out letters." And we came up with this idea for a school in Pakistan in Iqbal's memory. And Mr. Adams came in. "One at a time, one at a time," he said. I said, "Amy, go ahead." So she gave him the idea.

AMY:I basically just blurted it out.

AMANDA: Mr. Adams said, "Okay, all right, you guys go home tonight, write a letter about your idea, and you can send it to the school," thinking that we're going to forget about it. He really thought we were crazy.

RON: No, I wanted to know exactly how you were going to do that. How you would go from that day, that class, to building a school in someone else's country in the name of Iqbal Masih. The next time we met, Amy had how we were going to do it all on paper.

AMANDA:I wrote the letter and Amy wrote the steps later.

RON: Jen did the typing. They organized themselves. They just started doing their action list without getting anyone's permission or waiting for anyone to figure it out and agree with them or disagree with them. They just started to do it.

AMANDA: The letter basically told who Iqbal was and what we learned. And we also asked for $12 from each class if they would like to help build a school. $12 is petty cash for all of us. He was 12 when he came, he was 12 when he won the Reebok human rights award, and he was 12 when he passed away. That's how the number 12 became symbolic.

RON: And he was sold into bonded labor at age four for the equivalent of $12. So they thought, don't ask for donations. The $12 make you think about the person. That day they stayed after school again, used E mail, and sent out letters this time not to senators but to other middle schools. I think they sent an appeal out to 30 schools. The next morning they came in, "Did we get any mail, did we get any mail?" We looked and we had 12 messages. It was like it was meant to be. Twelve schools said, "You're right, that's a great idea, tell us what we can do to help." The campaign was born electronically.

ND: Did you have a moment of wondering if starting a school was possible?

AMY: Not really, because I think we were all so high on ourselves that we thought we could get this done. It was good that we had so much motivation. We were, "Got to do this. Got to do that." The teachers were like, "No. Go home at 2:30." We said, "We're not going home." We were going so fast, the teachers wanted us to slow down, take it easy. We came in on weekends, vacations. In the summer time we had a meeting every week or every other week.

RON: This fellow who does web sites read the story in the newspaper and called the school and said he'd like to get involved in our campaign but didn't want to make a donation. But what he could do is bring over some Amnesty International members and set up a web site so that our campaign can go global. Well, we didn't have a computer then that could even access a web site. So he says, "I'll bring over my experts, we'll bring over all the equipment, we'll set it up in the room, we'll teach the kids what a web site is, and then we'll build it. But the rule has got to be: Everything on this web site has to be written by kids, drawn by kids, and that's it."

AMANDA: The web site is the thing that made us reach so many other people. The biggest amount of people we ever reached in our lives.

RON: There's a guest book and people when they find the web site are encouraged to write their reaction. Literally there are postings there from Norway and Korea and Thailand and all 50 states. It's just become a wonderful guest book with tremendously powerful messages of inspiration and hope and expansion of the campaign. So at that time donations started to come in. Principals called the school or sent E-mail messages saying, "Where is this money going? Who is going to watch over it?" and "Who do we make the check out to?" So we needed to get a bank to take us seriously. We also needed to get something in writing from some of the adults that had been encouraging us. So Senator Kennedy's office issued a statement within an hour of our request. He issued a press release saying basically these guys are launching a campaign on-line and I am with them one hundred percent, Amnesty International did the same, and a local bank set up a fund for us.

AMANDA: And we set up a mailing system. That's when we used to meet every day in the cafeteria an hour before school started. People would come in, write a handwritten thank you letter to someone. You have a flyer, you have your stationery, you have an envelope, you have pens. We were having problems because we needed stamps and money to send them out. But we had people send in packages of envelopes and stamps for us.

RON: A company in Tennessee sent us 5,000 envelopes. And I laughed when they arrived. Five thousand envelopes! We're up to 2,000 letters written.

AMY: Anybody could get corporate donations, call up Nynex and ask for 200 bucks. But what we did was unique in the sense that we collected $130,000 by $12 donations from schools who donated in pennies or other stuff. People didn't just give money. One lady donated a couple computers. One lady sent in Rice Krispies treats to the school. Some people donated their time to help. One lady offered to come in and type for us. Now we have a database in the computer of all the contacts that we would ever need for the campaign.

AMANDA: The way donations came in was wicked awesome. People were selling Popsicles after school. They take up donations, they bring cans in. One school did a crazy tie day. A little girl in first grade was walking home and she found a dollar bill. She ran all the way back to the school and said, "Look what I found." We said, "Well, that's great for you." She said, "No, that's great for Iqbal, because I want to donate this." You get letters that other kids are just as mad and just as determined not to let children be treated this way, no matter what country it is, no matter what religion it is, it doesn't matter. You're not going to treat children this way. I think that was the chord that was struck. Child to child. A chord I don't think adults could have reached. I remember this one old woman from Minnesota, who couldn't afford to give any money. So she made little mice with little tails sticking out. She said you can sell these and give the money to the campaign. And she also sent these little sticks with bows on each end that said Iqbal in red and green letters. And she had sewn little velvet letters. It's just great.

RON: There's a steady spreading of the word. It's slow, people discover it in their own time and in their own way. As a result we thought this campaign would have ended on the first anniversary last year of Iqbal's death. That was our goal, to raise $100,000 by his death and find some nongovernmental organization that would be bias free and would take our money and build a school for kids like Iqbal in Pakistan, in Iqbal's memory. We wanted to be able to announce it last April 16th, on the anniversary of Iqbal's death. Well, we beat it. On April 12th we announced that we had found a group to build the school. It was meant to be.

AMY: Yeah! Well, our first goal was $5,000, and we thought that was a lot. And then we surpassed that, so we're like, we're not going to stop until we have $10,000. We exceeded that and then we thought, "Okay, $15,000." So we went up to $25,000 and we exceeded that. Then our custodian, Mr. Guppy, he's like 80 years old, overnight one day came and raised the goal on this thermometer we had for fundraising to $50,000.

RON: Mr. Guppy was right, he said, "You guys are going to reach $50,000 so start planning for a bigger school." Then, as we started to approach the $50,000 mark, Mr. Guppy did the same thing. Over the week end, he revised the thermometer. He turned out to be right on the money.

AMANDA: We never thought we could do it. We were like, "Mr. Guppy is crazy! We're never going to make it." Mr. Guppy said, "Oh, believe me, yes you will. Yes you will." And we did. That was a major thing.

ND:So how did you go about starting a school?

AMY: Well, we searched for nongovernmental organizations that would help us build a school. We contacted a lot of our friends, governmental officials, Amnesty International. They sent us lists of names. I guess Mr. Adams learned never to under estimate the power of seventh graders.

RON: Then we had to send out requests for proposals, we had never even heard of RFPs. People had written to us and said, "Look, I'm a lawyer or I've worked in a non governmental organization and if you ever get to the point where you have to send out requests for proposals, give me a call and I will help walk you through the process." At the time, we were just trying to raise money and raise awareness, that was our goal. So when it came time, we called those people and said, "We're going to have a meeting. And we want you to advise us on our RFP."

AMANDA: First they were like, "Can you add this or that. But other than that it's great."

RON: They liked the fact that the RFP was not in legalese, that it was written by kids. So, off went the proposal. We spent the February vacation sending it out to 300 nongovernmental organizations around the world. And then we sat back and held our breath. By the deadline we got back 12. There were 12 organizations in the world that would be willing to build a school for Iqbal. One in Switzerland, two in the United States, seven in Pakistan, and a couple had multinational offices.

AMANDA:I remember the first one that we chose after spending weeks and weeks trying to pick them and it came to the last vote.

RON: Just reading them was difficult because they were written by lawyers and we were thinking, "Oh, my gosh."

AMANDA: That's why it took us so long. And a lot of them had really good blueprints and ideas in them on what they wanted for children.

AMY: Some of them were 52 pages. We scanned through the proposals ourselves. It was a lot of reading. Then we had a ballot and each one of the columns was different qualities we wanted as a way of commemorating Iqbal. Then we rated each organization. And it came down to a final five.

RON: We thought that to make that kind of decision where all of the money we raise is going to be handed over to people we've never met, in another country, we needed to have a more appropriate setting. We didn't want to make the decision in the same place that we'd been conducting all of the other business of the campaign. So we managed to convince the people who run the Church of the Presidents up here in Quincy Square, which is where John Adams and John Quincy Adams are buried and is a national historic site, to let us meet there. We just thought that is the place where we would do our serious thinking and hopefully the environment would have an effect on us and bring out the best in us. Turned out after a lot of debate and discussion, it was unanimous. Then we went next out of the meeting room and into the church part and we all took a separate pew and tried to reflect on, maybe pray, that the decision was right and also to reflect on Iqbal and that he not be forgotten. So that was in April. Our choice for the $100,000 we raised was that 200 Pakistani children, ages four to twelve, will be able to have what Iqbal could only dream of, an education.

ND: Who was your choice to build the school?

RON: Sudhar is their name. It means hope in Urdu the language of Iqbal. And they're going to be building this school. They have built one school before. They're a nongovernmental organization. Grassroots, small, 30 people maybe in the whole organization. That appealed to the kids a lot, because they are like us. They come from the same area in Pakistan as Iqbal. They know everybody. They know the problem. So the $100,000 establishes the physical structure, hires the principal, all the teachers, and pays all the daily operating expenses for three years. And part of the money will go into the Iqbal Masih Education Foundation, an endowment fund. And it will roll over and over and by the fourth year of operations that fund will have grown large enough to pay all the daily operating expenses of the school for years and years to come. We've had people look at this financial plan and they said that because a teacher's salary is $1,100 a year that $100,000 can run this school conceivably forever. In addition to establishing the Iqbal Masih Education Foundation fund, building the school and paying for all the operating expenses, the money also allows 50 families to buy back children that they sold into bonded labor. So we are seeing their actions translate into freedom and education for 200 kids.

ND:Boy,I bet this makes you feel good.

AMANDA:Yup. I'll have my first vacation since this whole thing started.

ND:So when does this school open?

RON: Right now there are 80 kids who have registered, signed up.

ND: What do you think this campaign has done for your school?

AMANDA: It's made people realize that going to a school isn't just about academics. It isn't just about making someone think. It's about getting involved. It just isn't okay to go to school, go home, and do nothing else besides play sports.

AMY: Yeah, I think because we've gotten the word across, we don't look at child-bonded labor the same way. We always have to check the rugs in carpet stores, lift the tags and make sure it's not made with child-bonded labor.

ND: And what else have you learned?

AMANDA: You learn a whole lifetime's experience doing something like this. You get to meet people that you probably would never get to meet. You learn how to write letters. How to speak publicly. You learn how to manage money, how to get started on things, how to not burn bridges. You learn to take chances. You learn so many things you can't name them.

AMY: I've learned to open my eyes to injustices and take action. And we've learned a lot of skills needed in the world, like how to use computers and the Internet. But we've also learned morals like don't discriminate against people.

ND: So it sounds to me that among the many things you've learned, you've learned to live and function in a democratic society. Is that a fair assumption for me to make?

AMANDA: Yes, totally. We did everything by voting. The campaign was run by the people, which in this case was the students.

ND: What about the extra money you are raising? Are you going to put it in the foundation?

RON: We're undecided right now. Maybe we'll have 220 children in the school instead of 200. And some of the possible uses of the money are to build another smaller school in another place, so you spread the influence of Iqbal into another area where just the fact of the school being built will cause people to say, "Who's building that? Why are they building that? In whose memory?" And all of a sudden the whole story of Iqbal will come to life again in that region. But these kids will make that decision. So that's where we are: $132,000. A little boy walked in that door, sat up there in your chair, and told us what his life had been like. And it changed everything.

AMANDA: We don't take our seat for granted in the classroom anymore. We come in here, we learn, we're proud of our school and proud to be free, proud to have an education and live in America. That's what we learned. You can't take things for granted. Other people don't have it.

RON: There's a piece of tape on the bottom of the chair that marks the seat where Iqbal sat, and we move it around a little bit. If someone sits in it, if they aren't doing their work, I'll say, "You know what seat you're sitting in." They'll realize that's the special seat where our special guest sat, the boy who came and told us how lucky we are to have freedom for all children, education for all children.

ND: What would you say to other kids who are thinking about taking on a campaign like this? Do you have any advice?

AMY: I would say, it's not that hard. Just start off with an idea and go from there. There's plenty of things wrong in the world. So just find one thing and go step by step. Get some adults who will support you and some friends to work with and go!

ND: And how important is it that the community outside of the school be involved?

AMY: It's pretty important. Because with all this local stuff going on then kids realize, "Wow!" They can tell their friends, "Oh, my hometown is doing this." And that might encourage other people to start something in their town, and go from there.

AMANDA: One person can make a difference, but when you have a group of people helping you, it makes a bigger difference.

ND: And what would you tell the adults to do?

AMY: I'd tell them to be behind the kids, let them do what they have to do. Don't interfere too much, but when they need you, be there. It'll work much better than if parents or the adults take over and have it be an adult campaign.

ND: What about Mr. Adams? What did he do that helped make this happen?

AMY: Well, besides being a chauffeur to us everywhere, he just basically stood back and let us do it. He believed in us.

ND: Do you think the campaign changed Mr. Adams?

AMY: Well, he's not just a teacher anymore. He's more like a family friend. I guess Mr. Adams' learned never to underestimate the power of seventh graders.

Editor's Note:

At the time this publication went to press, the School for Iqbal officially opened in Parkistan, serving 250 children between the ages of four and twelve who otherwise would be denied an education. Additionally, 50 families will receive funds to buy back their children from bonded slavery on the condition their children be enrolled in the school.


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