While Hanukkah is a primarily Jewish Festival it has significant universal overtones. Specifically, it celebrates the persistence of light over darkness and freedom over tyranny.
The world these days feels like a very dark place. With so much hatred and violence, we may wonder where we will find the light we need to believe in miracles once again.
For the last 18 years, I have seen the darkness and the depths of human sorrow caused by the suffering of children. But I have also seen the light. The light that shines when one person decides not to bear the darkness any longer. These light-bearers are the heroes we celebrate at World of Children Award.
Most recently, we heard Juan's story...
A few years ago Juan, a teenager living in New England, was living a nightmare. He and his mother both suffered at the hands of his abusive father. One night, they made the courageous decision to flee. Taking only their coats, and shoving their feet into the first pairs of shoes they could find in the dark, they left their old life. Juan realized too late that he'd grabbed his mother's fur-lined boots. The wrong pair of shoes might seem like a trivial thing to worry about, given what Juan and his mother had just escaped, but they weren't trivial to Juan. Day after day, he had to wear the boots to his new school. And day after day he was ridiculed and bullied by his peers. Usually a good student who loved going to class, Juan's self-esteem dropped perilously low. Things got worse and worse until he could barely be persuaded to set foot outside.
Juan had escaped one abuser but stepped into a life of new torment.
When Nicholas Lowinger, 2015 World of Children Youth Honoree, heard about Juan through a case worker, his Gotta Have Sole Foundation delivered new shoes to the shelter that same night. Nicholas personally presented the new sneakers to Juan, who broke down and cried. It was the first new pair of shoes he'd had in his life. Juan went back to school the next day with renewed confidence.
A simple gift of shoes, gave Juan a true second chance - a chance to start a new life, to make new friends, and to pursue his education. It brought a light to illuminate his darkness.
But millions more children around the world are facing a future of uncertain tomorrows. They face physical and emotional violence, attempt to re-build broken lives, or struggle to face another day. Who will bring them light?
American author Edith Wharton said, "There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."
Today, I am asking each of you to be a mirror. Join us in reflecting the work of heroes like Nicholas. Share Juan's story on Facebook or Twitter; tell your co-worker about it over lunch; encourage our honorees with a message of hope on our Facebook page; find out how you can do more. Each act may seem small on its own but together we can multiply the reflections and bring light into so many children's lives.