Father Joe recently presented the keynote address at the International Janusz Korczak Conference, held this August 5 - 9 in Tokyo, Japan. (Complete text of speech here.)
The bi-annual international conference is dedicated to the life and works of Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish educator and pediatrician who introduced progressive orphanages to Poland and pioneered the legal rights of children everywhere. In 1942, when his Jewish orphanage was removed to the Warsaw Ghetto, Janusz Korczak refused an offer of help for his own safety. Months later Korczak and his children walked together in quiet dignity to the train bound for Treblinka, where they perished.
In his keynote address, Fr. Joe Maier presented a message from his own children – the 200 abandoned and orphaned children who live as family in Mercy Centre. When Fr. Joe told his children he would be speaking in Tokyo on the rights of children, they asked him to include the following statement:“Every child has an absolute right to protection from each and every adult they meet. All children, when they see any adult anywhere – on the street, in school, and especially at home - can look at that adult and know they will be protected. Loved. Looked after. No matter what. That they will not be harmed. They are safe.”
In preparing the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Korczak wrote of children’s rights to education, respect, dignity, and protection. The General Assembly of United Nations codified the rights of children in 1959 and in 1979 dedicated the International Year of the Child to the legacy of Janusz Korczak.
As Father Joe explained in his address, the children living in his Mercy Centre expanded on the Declaration of Rights to include:
“The right to wash your clothes… and to have clothes to wash.“The right to know and understand what you can and cannot do.
“The right to look nice – to have your hair combed and to be bathed with clean water, not smelly canal water from Bangkok’s klongs - which makes all the other kids and, worst of all, the teachers, tell you that you stink.” (In addition since most street children have lived in the care of their grandmothers, they also included the Rights of Grandmoms.
The Human Development operates the Janusz Korczak School for Street Children, a special school for children who have no place to learn, play and make friends like other children.