Correspondent turns student focus on human rights


By Dave Schwab

Human rights correspondent Lisa Ling’s first international assignment was one she’ll never forget: looking into the lifeless eyes of Afghanistan boys who’d never been to school - but knew how to fire a bazooka.

“These kids had no expression in their faces,” said Ling, one of 40 speakers at The Bishop’s School’s second Human Rights Day on Monday. “And it became clear to me that, hour after hour, day after day, they would sit and fire those weapons. They didn’t know anything but that.”

The goal of the school’s Human Rights Day is to cultivate awareness among students that they are citizens of the world with a direct stake in international events and happenings.

The special day’s keynote speaker, Ling is a special correspondent for the National Geographic Channel and the Oprah Winfrey Show. She has traveled throughout the world chronicling human rights issues, everything from AIDS orphans in Uganda to bride burning in India, gang-rape in the Congo and, much closer to home, teen prostitution in the United States.

Life-changing times

Ling said traveling abroad in poor Third World countries is not only eye-opening but also life-changing. Citing one example, she talked about relatives complaining about getting the “wrong” type of I-pod for Christmas, juxtaposing that with a request from a child saved from slavery in Africa who asked her for her empty Pringles potato chip can so he could give it to his sister for her rock collection.

Ling talked about parents in Africa so poor they had one telephone for the entire village, who would allow their kids to be taken away by people who promised to take them away and give them an education in exchange for work. It turned out to be an empty promise, she said.

“They took them to fishing villages where they would dive into freezing cold water and pull fish out of nets, back-breaking labor even adults would have a difficult time doing, and they would survive on one meal a day,” Ling said.

Opening doors

She and others rescued some of those children and gave them a rudimentary education, which they treasured.

“They were laser-focused on their teachers,” Ling said. “They knew this was the first opportunity in their lives to get an education. They were not going let anyone, or anything, get in their way.”

Then Ling talked about human rights abuse closer to home: in our own backyard.

“It might surprise you to know there are more slaves living in the world right now than there have ever been before,” she said.

“There are a huge number of slaves who live in our country right now: teen prostitutes who don’t take home one dime of the money they make who give it all to their pimps whom they call daddy because they’ve never been told, ‘I love you. I want to take care of you.’ These girls were so vulnerable. If that isn’t called slavery … I don’t know what is, and it’s happening in the United States right now.”