Left to right are Jerry Nussbaum, president of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, David Morley and Kit Krieger. (photo by Shula Klinger)
On Nov. 6, the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada welcomed David Morley, president and chief executive officer of UNICEF Canada, to the Ponderosa Ballroom at the University of British Columbia. In partnership with the university’s faculty of education, the event was part of an annual speaker series, created in Janusz Korczak’s name.
Korczak (1878-1942) was an educator, broadcaster, playwright, doctor and passionate advocate for children’s rights. His views on the importance of democratic education broke the mould in an era where rigid rules and harsh discipline were the norm. For Korczak, children were young citizens whose thoughts should be respected and heard.
Having spent years advocating and caring for orphans in wartorn Poland, Korczak refused all offers of sanctuary during the Second World War. Finally, he accompanied his charges as they were marched to the gas chambers of Treblinka extermination camp, where he also was murdered.
Sixty years after Korczak’s death, the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada was established in Vancouver, where it works to keep his ideas in the public eye, and in the minds of educators.
As an author and public speaker, Morley has taken a leading role in human rights advocacy for the past 30 years. His push for children’s rights has been central to his work in international development. He now leads a program of growth at UNICEF Canada on behalf of, and in partnership with, community stakeholders, to create safe, stimulating and healthy environments for children.
Morley’s topic was How We Can Make Canada a Great Country for Kids. It centred on data collected in 14 reports on the well-being of children and youth in prosperous countries. Spanning 17 years, these reports reveal vast differences in outcomes for young people in countries that appear – at least on the surface – to be equally wealthy. The reports’ scope encompasses a vast range of indicators of child and youth well-being, including literacy levels, teen pregnancy rates, the incidences of suicide and child murder, the level of poverty, the amount of bullying and how much awareness there is of environmental issues.
Morley delivered a blow to most people’s perception of Canada as a safe, peace-loving nation with a population of healthy kids. On the contrary, he showed that one in four Canadian children lives in poverty, with statistical evidence showing that Canadian children suffer from ill-health, violence and a poor sense of well-being to a surprising degree, in comparison with similarly affluent countries. He said Canada ranks 25th out of the world’s 41 richest nations, positioned roughly in the middle, with Norway in the top spot and Chile at the bottom.
Describing Korczak as “a giant in the realm of children’s rights,” Morley spoke of honouring Korczak’s legacy in Canada by “making sure that kids have a chance to reach their full potential.” He pointed to the “shocking” statistic that the graduation rate for children in care is a mere 51%, whereas the rate is 89% for kids who are not in care. Even worse, the graduation rate for Canada’s indigenous population is only 44%.
Morley explained the need to keep children involved in any program of change, seeking their participation in the planning and development of new initiatives. Themes of gender equality and sustainable development appeared throughout his call to action. His presentation concluded to applause and was followed by a lively question-and-answer period tackling a wide range of topics, including employment, education and the discrimination faced by First Nations children.
In addition to Morley’s presentation, the evening also saw the presentation of a scholarship to UBC student Assadullah Sadiq, from the JKAC. Awarded to a scholar of great promise in the field of education, Sadiq received the honour in absentia, via letter. He said, “the honour of being selected for this award is something I will always treasure. I will dedicate myself to children’s rights and education my whole life.”
The event was moderated by Kit Krieger of the UBC faculty of education, who is also an Honorary Life Fellow of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. It featured a moving presentation by local author, JKAC board member and child survivor Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, who described Korczak as “my father’s hero.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.