A wonderful human being has passed away. Words fail to describe the warmth, wisdom, love, faith and humor of this unique human being Desmond Tutu.
The first time I had the pleasure of meeting him in his humble office was in South Africa in 2002. When I told him about my plans to establish KidsRights, he listened attentively and then said in his warm voice “….aah you want to give a voice to the voiceless”.
This wise remark became the basis and essence of KidsRights, to give a voice to children, who are not or hardly heard. KidsRights was founded in 2003.
In 2005 this led to the launch of the International Children’s Peace Prize, not only to recognise children and young people who had courageously stood up for the rights of other children and had actually brought about change, but also, and above all, to provide a platform for them to spread their message so that they could be heard.
Since 2008, Desmond Tutu has been patron of KidsRights and the International Children’s Peace Prize. In that year Desmond Tutu presented the Children’s Peace Prize in the Ridderzaal in The Hague to Maya Avellar from Brazil for her efforts to stop the violence in her slum in Rio de Janeiro. Desmond Tutu addressed her and said “Just look, just look, there’s a little angel who comes and wipes the tears from God’s eyes.” He then lovingly consoled her after she burst into tears during her speech.
In 2010, Desmond Tutu opened the Millennium Development Goals Conference in Johannesburg, organized by KidsRights, from which the “Joburg call for action” for children’s rights towards the United Nations, emerged. Together with Gracia Machel, the wife of the late Nelson Mandela, he attended the conference and met the former president of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, whom he approached in a conciliatory manner.
In 2011, I got to meet Desmond Tutu again in Cape Town on the occasion of Chaeli Mycroft from South Africa winning the International Children’s Peace Prize. She advocates for the rights of disabled children. Chaeli presents Desmond Tutu with a pair of bright red socks and she says these are “happy socks” that I wear on Fridays. That same Friday, I am invited to attend a mass in the chapel of Cape Town Cathedral, where Desmond Tutu presides before a small group of attendees. After Mass, he turned to me with a mischievous smile on his face and lifted his chasuble (outer garment) to just above his ankles and showed off his bright red socks!
In 2012 he presented the Children’s Peace Prize in The Hague for the second time to Kesz Valdez from Manila, who as a street child set up an organization for street children. Desmond Tutu makes a “high five” with Kesz in front of the cameras of the world press and says slowly and poignantly to the audience and into the camera “Hey you oldies, listen to the children, listen to the children…..and act!”
In 2014, with the arrival of Desmond Tutu and honored by the presence of King Willem Alexander, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the International Children’s Peace Prize. Here Desmond Tutu presents the Children’s Peace Prize to Neha Gupta from America for her work for children in disadvantaged neighborhoods in America and India. After yet another impressive speech by Desmond Tutu, a gospel choir performed the final song at the end of the ceremony. In front of the audience and a smiling Majesty, Desmond Tutu stands up before the Majesty and does a spontaneous dance of joy, unhindered by anyone.
In 2018, for the first time, the Children’s Peace Prize will be awarded outside the Netherlands.Due to old age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to travel. When I suggest that” the mountain comes to Moses instead of Moses to the mountain” he has to laugh very much, because in this case he is Moses. The Children’s Peace Prize is awarded to the students who survived the horrific shooting at a Florida school and set up the organization March for Our Lives in America with the goal of regulating gun sales much more strictly to prevent gun violence. The ceremony at Cape Town’s Old Town Hall is on historic ground. Here, Desmond Tutu stood and held up Nelson’s Mandela arm on the balcony of City Hall, presenting him to the assembled frenzied crowd in the square. A photo of this became an iconic moment in world history. Desmond Tutu enjoyed the ceremony in Cape Town and the special performance by the Sowetho Gospel Choir, to celebrate the new winners.
In subsequent years, as in the early days of the Children’s Peace Prize, Desmond Tutu announced the finalists in a press release on the eve of the ceremony. This happened as recently as last October 2021 when this year’s three finalists were announced.
We will miss our patron very much. Many beautiful big and small moments pass by. For example, I remember when he entered through the gaderobe entrance of the Knight’s Hall and started greeting all the foyer staff and shook their hands one by one without any regard and did high fives or “fist bumps” with all the young people he encountered.
The emails he signed with “arch” and countless other small incidents and anecdotes with his unique human perspective charactized him. Together with children and young people, and with your help, we will continue the work of KidsRights by giving a “voice to the voiceless” as Desmond Tutu put it so beautifully.
We look back with great gratitude and Desmond Tutu will always remain in our hearts and continue to inspire KidsRights.
Founder and Chairman KidsRights