Asking the kids is what the NGO "Save the children" in Sweden, TBT and the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science in Riga did last year, sounding a call for students' essays to let them express themselves.
Almost 500 essays were delivered to the Ministry of Education which evaluated them and selected the best. Children were encouraged to write about everything they feel worth writing about to "tell the world what they think."
Suzanne Askelof, the head of organization "Save the Children," said children have a right to express themselves, and to be listened to and heard, as it stands in the UN Convention on Children Rights. "But what is written in the Convention and what is reality are two different things. And the only way you can find out the truth is to ask," Askelof told 13 winners of the contest, at the May 4 reception with Ambassador of Sweden Hans Magnusson and his spouse at the Royal Swedish Embassy.
Because of the discrepancy that sometimes occurs between wish and reality, children were asked to write what they think about the respect shown them by their parents, teachers, friends and others.
Askelof said she was very surprised by the openness of the essays and the consciousness of young people.
"Some of the essays we read in Sweden, were unanimous about one thing. Children said they are already treated with respect. Another number of the essays expressed rather strong self-confidence," she said.
The two winners of the contest embracing all of Latvia received computers. The next three received a trip to Sweden which they will make from June 3 to June 6.
Other students received special prizes and diplomas.
Valdis Rumnieks, the head of the Creative Unions' Board and member of the evaluation committee said "the theme - respect - was very aptly chosen. Children took it very seriously. It is something that fits their world."
"We are astonished a bit, because many of them said that we are already respected by grown ups, but I think that there are 500 pieces, so you should read more of them to be able to get a clear picture," said Askelof.
The essays are very confident and sincere. Children seemed to confide the most sacred things they have in their essays. All writings are deeply autobiographic. They deliver both joy for the beauty of life and resentment for loneliness so difficult to cure.
One girl, a winner of the trip to Sweden, expressed the pain of being alone and not accepted by one of her parents. Her writing was a desperate attempt to express the love she always felt to her mother but never dared to express directly.
What is characteristic of these works is the wide range of emotions expressed.
"These were not cheerful. Many were quite somber, because children understand that their parents do not live in wealthy and happy families, that their parents have to fight for what they have," said Rumnieks.
One girl wrote about enemies and people wishing her something bad, people who turn their face from her when they approach her, or those who can insult you looking straight in your face.
"It was very difficult in the beginning..., but now I don't care about it anymore," she wrote. "I know what I am and I know what I want, and this is the most important."
"There was a lot of quality, openly written works," said Rumnieks. "The essays were unexpectedly serious for children of their age, with a very deep feeling."
Another thing the essays reveal is children's lack of protection against changes they will encounter in the future. They fear the future and expect its coming with great excitement. And the only bastion protecting them against uncertainty is their parents.
"I think that everyone in his life must have a 'mother's haven on the coast.' For me my 'mother's haven on the coast' is the place I go in my thoughts every day, it is my sanctuary. My 'mother's coast' is unique: It is warm, sunny, cozy and quiet there, because my mother is always beside me," wrote Anastasija Volkova, a girl from Daugavpils, a winner of a trip to Sweden. "The 'mother's coast' is necessary to escape danger. I have one. Unfortunately, some children never had a 'mother's coast.' Some people's 'mother's haven on the coast' have sunk deep in the sea. It is so unfortunate that some children have to look for this coast all their lives."
"Standing on the threshold of the 21 century the most important thing is to comprehend the affiliation to the world you live in, to the time that is hard and difficult. Love people and yourself, and then the world will smile upon you and you will be able yourself to paint your tomorrow," wrote Zane Rusina, 14, a painting student, going to Sweden. She said that most important in relationships is that people not betray you.
In line with the idea to provide a chance for self-expression, some essays are real confessions of minors. Many writers thank in their essays the organizers of the contest for giving them such a chance, even those who say they are being listened to and heard in their everyday lives.
"Children mostly said they are treated with respect," said Rumnieks. "Children's self-criticism was the most surprising discovery to me. They wrote, that in cases they are not respected, it is usually their own fault."
Askelof said the contest was so encouraging that "Save the children" should do something similar in Sweden. She supposed that the contest might be followed up in the future. She said that this is a particular kind of communication between two generations, which make two different worlds.
"The world is so broad, and in its every pocket pulses a heart. Mine is also among them. Sometimes I want to die, but when some days pass, I understand that it will resolve nothing, that I have to live to reach something in my life, to change something not only in myself, but also in the whole world," wrote Sindija Gerge, another winner of the contest.