To take a deep, hard look at oneself is a challenge at any age. To do so as a teenager is even more trying. But what if your early life had been a turbulent one — a life without the comfort of a loving parent and plagued by hunger, neglect or fear of violence? To then speak about your past — and dreams — on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers is probably a feat even beyond many adults.
The Canayell speech contest was, to me, at once heart-wrenching and inspiring. To hear the raw experiences of children orphaned at a young age, or forced to lead their whole lives in institutions due to their parents’ financial strife, or who were bullied in school for the sole fact that they were institutionalized, inspires pity.
The children’s speeches, however, contain no self-pity. These boys and girls, who have had more than their fair share of despair, distress, and even trauma, speak mostly of their hopes and aspirations. Hopes of becoming a school teacher to help students in need of emotional support; of working at a child institution to comfort those who face a similar fate to theirs; of becoming a wedding planner to take part in the happiest moments of couples’ lives; of becoming a journalist to unearth the sufferings of those forgotten by the world at large.
It seems against the odds that these children have overcome their tribulations and complexes to harbor dreams to better themselves — many with the goal of serving others. How does a child who was abused to the point of sustaining injuries to his organs get past his own suffering to hope for a better world?
If anyone deserves a shot at that, it’s that 17-year-old boy, and all the others like him who have had the strength to survive the trials that most of us in the developed world have never had to experience. They don’t deserve our pity; they deserve our respect. If they’ve come this far, imagine what they could do with the education they long for, and the drive that they have. And their success would be an inspiration to all of us, and proof that other children like them can dare to dream.
– Chang-Ran Kim, Senior Correspondent, Reuters News, Tokyo (July, 2015)
This column is by a Reuters reporter who agreed to share her opinion on the Canayell speech contest.