By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
Tommy Rutten, 15, may be the only Carmel Valley resident who has had his picture taken with the Queen of Sweden—twice.
In September, he went to Stockholm, for the second time, to co-host the awards ceremony for the World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child, a Nobel Prize for children that originated in Sweden a decade ago. Queen Silvia has been a strong supporter since the program began.
More than 53,000 schools in 101 countries are members of WCPRC, which focuses on empowering children to speak out for children's rights. Tommy Rutten is one of 23 million young people who are learning about their less fortunate peers—children suffering from poverty, war, and all forms of abuse—and are helping to fund some of the courageous and dedicated visionaries who are trying to give them a better life. This year, more than 7 million kids voted to select the recipients of the prize money, which is contributed by international humanitarian organizations.
Tommy was first introduced to WCPRC as a sixth grader at Skyline School in Solana Beach. Skyline's Global Education program included a week devoted to the World's Children's Prize, in which students were asked to read WCPRC's magazine, The Globe, and write essays about what they learned. Tommy was among those selected to read their essays at a school assembly.
The reading was filmed as part of a short documentary on WCPRC, and the film crew was so impressed by Tommy's commitment, compassion and conviction that he was invited to Sweden to participate in the 2008 ceremony. This year, he was invited back for WCPRC's 10th anniversary, which included the awarding of Decade Child Rights Heroes to Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graça Machel.
The ceremony began with African drumming, Vietnamese, Indian, and Brazilian dancing, and European chamber music, and was co-hosted by Lisa Bonogwe from Zimbabwe, a member of WCPRC's international children's jury. All jury members are victims of children's rights violations—former child-soldiers, refugees, sex slaves, and street-children orphaned by AIDS, genocide, or natural disasters—who are beginning to see themselves as articulate and active global citizens.
Besides co-hosting the ceremony, which took place in the same hall where the Nobel Prize is awarded, Tommy also introduced Graça Machel at a special reception and addressed 1000 schoolkids at Stockholm's Convention Center.
"He had three major speaking engagements in five days," said his proud mom, Dana Smith, who accompanied her son to Sweden.
Smith, who is Dean of Arts & Letters at Mira Costa College, was unable to make the trip in 2008.
"I was a brand-new dean then, and didn't feel I could get away," she said. "So his dad went with him. I'm so glad I got another chance!"
After the ceremony, she watched her son form friendships with a former child soldier from the Congo and an AIDS orphan from Kenya. "The three of them were inseparable," she said. "Just seeing them together gave me such hope for the future."
Now a sophomore at Torrey Pines High School, Tommy feels honored to be part of WCPRC.
"Even if I can't return to Sweden next year due to school commitments, I'll always be an avid supporter," he said. "It's a fantastic organization."
To learn more about WCPRC, see