This assembly is written to coincide as closely as possible with United Nations Day, which falls on Saturday, October 24th, 2009. After outlining the UN’s structure, it concentrates on the work of UNICEF – The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund

Resources: A Leader and three Readers

Engagement

Leader: Good morning everybody. Nowadays many of you know the names of lots of celebrities, like famous footballers or pop stars. But let’s find out if you can recognise someone who may well be more important than any of them. I’m going to give you a series of clues. [Vary the quiz according to the response.]

– He comes from Korea.- His name begins with B. – He has an office in the city of New York, USA.- He is the head of an international organisation.- It has soldiers but they don’t go to war.- They wear blue helmets and try to make peace.. – He is the Secretary General of the United Nations.

– And his name is… Mr. Ban Ki Moon.

The United Nations has its own special day – October 24th. It was last/is next Saturday – so now is a good time to think about the UN.

After the First World War the international community set up the League of Nations, which was meant to solve future conflicts without fighting. Sadly the League failed to stop the outbreak of the Second World War, and so the people of the world decided to try again. The United Nations was founded on October 24th 1945 – a date which is now observed as United Nations Day. The UN has an international parliament – principally made up of the General Assembly and the Security Council – and it also has other special departments set up to tackle the world’s many problems with as much expertise as possible.

Reflection

This morning we are going to hear about the work of just one of them. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund – or UNICEF for short.

Our readers will now speak for three young people who have been given a new chance in life – thanks to UNICEF.

Reader 1: People call me an “Indian” but I live in Bolivia, in South America. I belong to the native people of the continent who were there before conquerors came from Spain. My country has been independent for nearly two hundred years, but many of the so-called Indians live in the mountains, where we don’t have clean drinking water or good medical care. Most children go to primary school, but many of us drop out when it’s time to go to secondary school. That’s partly because, even though my people have our own language, all the lessons are in Spanish which we find hard to understand.

But now thanks to UNICEF, things are changing. We have lessons in our own language as well as in Spanish And our new school books are a lot more interesting. We can read stories about our own Indian culture. More Indians are training to be teachers too, and parents who used to be scared of school are learning to help out. And so we say a big “thank you” to UNICEF for giving us a chance. (1)

Leader: Now let’s hear from our second witness, who comes from a different continent – Asia.

Reader 2: Unlike the last speaker, I never even went to primary school. I lived in Pakistan, and my parents were very poor. When I was just four years old, they needed money to pay for my brother’s wedding. So they sold me to a carpet maker in return for a big loan. I worked hard but I could never earn enough to pay back it back. I was a ’bonded servant’ – a kind of slave. Sometimes my master chained me to my work station to stop me running away. In all that time I got no education. But when I was ten years old I managed to escape and link up with the Bonded Labour Liberation Front – that’s an organisation that helps to rescue and protect slave children like me. I had to stand up in front of a big crowd and make a speech – telling them about what was happening. It was really scary. But in the end we were able to win freedom for hundreds of us. I believe that kids should be in school, not working for nothing. All children should be given a chance to learn and make something of themselves.

Leader: It isn’t easy to help children in debt bondage. Their parents are very poor, and often they can’t read or write. They find it hard to complain in public because they can only speak the local language. If they don’t have enough money to feed their family, and they don’t want to leave them to die, they may feel forced to hire them out as child workers.

So UNICEF is helping – by funding nursery education for very little children, and English language teaching and part-time schooling for those who have to work to feed their families. Over the last few years, Reebok – the well known sports firm – has made a spread out donation of $250,000 dollars to help pay for the programme. (2)

Now let’s hear from our third witness. He had the toughest time of all.

Reader 3: You can call me James. I used to be a child soldier. I live in Liberia in West Africa. My country was been ruined by war. When I was only six years old the rebels came to our village. They needed child soldiers to fight in the forest and they said they would kill my father if I didn’t go along. When kids in your country were in primary school, we were crawling under barbed wire and learning how to fire an AK47rifle.

I fought with the rebels for five years. I feel very bad about what I did: but you need to know why I did it. They made us take drugs. I was on opium and valium a lot of the time. The drugs made me feel no pain and even made me feel like it was someone else doing all these bad things. Sometimes we went of a mission called ’Capture and Destroy’. We had to kill everything, people and animals. By the time I was eleven, I got the name of ’Captain War Boss’.

But then a peace deal was agreed. I left the rebel army and went to Monrovia the capital of my country. But once you’ve been a child soldier it’s hard to learn to live like a human being. Then UNICEF paid for me to go to school. I’ve now got as far as Year 8 and I’m hoping to become a doctor. UNICEF has given me a chance – at least for now. (3)

Response

Leader: Every meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations begins with a minute of silence. This allows people who practise different faiths and philosophies to think, or meditate or pray. (4) Now let’s do the same. Let’s be quiet now for just sixty seconds, while our readers remind us of some of the young people that UNIFEF is helping…

Reader 1: UNICEF is helping Indian children of Bolivia who need better education.

Silence

Reader 2: (after twenty seconds) UNICEF is giving a new chance to poor children in Pakistan who work like slaves to support their families.

Silence

Reader 3: (after 20 seconds) UNICEF is giving hope to young people who have been forced to fight as child soldiers.

Leader: Mr. Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General, has said that the power of prayer is very important in international peacemaking. (5) Please listen now to part of a prayer written specially for the United Nations.

Reader 1: Grant us a common faith that each of us shall know bread and peace –

Reader 2: – a common faith that each of us shall know freedom and security –

Reader 3: – and a chance to do our best in our own country and throughout the world. (6) (adapted)

All: Amen.

(Note: The first speaker – the Indian – is imaginary: the child in debt bondage – Iqbal – was shot when he was 13. The later fate of James is unknown.)

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.

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