Two years ago, when human rights activist Kailash Satyarthi became a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end child slavery, kindergarteners at Lexington’s Maxwell Spanish Immersion Magnet School sent him a piece of art that they created.
On Friday, Satyarthi paid a visit to those students, now in second grade, and their classmates. Maxwell students through song and presentations joined in a celebration of Satyarthi’s work and a showcase of his accomplishments in the global campaign to end child slavery and exploitative child labor.
“I was very very inspired by these children, all the hard work they did in learning about me and my work. It was moving for me,” Satyarthi said.
After earning an electrical engineering degree, Satyarthi worked as a teacher. In 1980, he left teaching and founded the organization Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, which has freed thousands of children from slave-like conditions. His efforts were rewarded with the Nobel.
Satyarthi shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani education advocate who was shot by the Taliban for going to school. Together, they were recognized for their struggle against the oppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.
“All children are your brothers and sisters. Start thinking globally. You cannot live in isolation,” Satyarthi told the students. “Every child should be in school,” not working.
Acting principal Debbie James said the children have been preparing for weeks to meet Satyarthi.
“We have talked,” she said, “about … how he works so hard for children and for children’s rights.”
In 2014, Maxwell parent Nathan Cryder contacted Maxwell school leaders and explained that he was a friend of Satyarthi. The two met years before in Washington D.C. Cryder’s connection to Satyarthi led to Maxwell kindergarteners creating a piece of art, which Cryder delivered to his friend in India.
“He loved it,” Cryder said.
Second-graders presented a poem to Satyarthi on Friday. In addition, second-grader Rosie Katz said she couldn’t find a children’s book about him, so she wrote one.
Cryder contacted Maxwell school leaders again recently to schedule Satyarthi’s visit. On Friday, Satyarthi sat on the gymnasium floor and took selfies with students. He encouraged them to love and become friends with people who they might see as enemies.
He was joined at the celebration by his wife, Sumedha, and Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk.
Students, wearing T-shirts that said “Peace Makers, Dream Chasers, and World Changers,” asked Satyarthi questions, such as when he first became aware that children were being forced into labor.
When he was 6, Satyarthi told students, he saw a boy about his age shining shoes, and when he was 11, he acted on his concern by collecting used books to help poor children. As an adult, he said, he befriended business owners and persuaded them not to work children. He told students that he also helped children who were enslaved as circus workers and that his actions changed laws.
Satyarthi, in an interview, said he tried to convey the message that the students had a responsibility to less fortunate children in the world because they were fortunate enough “to live and study and grow in this country.”