Iqbal Masih, or Dreams of a Better Life
Ladies and Gentlemen, how do you do?
I'm very happy to welcome you
To the story of young Iqbal Masih
His life, his work, and his legacy.
We'll begin with a dance and a chat about finance
Performed by Big Business and an aquaintance.
(Music. Big Business and Death [giant puppets] in)
Oh brave new world of leisure and beauty
My all-wired world of complete virtuality
I grudge no drudgery
I work at it constantly
I'm building the global economy.
And in the businessman's loving embrace
Children will certainly find a fine place
They come so cheap
Need so little upkeep
Just the thing for the global economy
(Music. Puppets dance to their stations)
These two can easily make their views clear
But those in the shadows aren't easy to see
The closer you look, the more you will hear
So let's have a word from the janitor, Judy
(Judy [hand puppet] in with paper movie cranky)
Judy: That would be me. I don't speak in poems.
I've seen too much dirty business. I get a pretty
good view from the human waste basket. Millions of
kids in there.... Now, Mister Big Billionaire, he likes
to explain his garbage so it's reasonable and it rhymes.
Not me. Not this Judy. I'm a tattletale. But I stick
to the facts and the fact is that Iqbal Masih was a
human being. Born to a mother and father not so long
ago in Pakistan. The only problem was - they were dirt
(Mother [hand puppet] and house in)
Mom: I hope my sweety in on his way home!
(Father [hand puppet] in)
Dad: Dum-dee-dum. Oh, my honey!
Mom: Oh, my sweety! Tell me, how was your day at work?
Dad: Oh, I worked so hard! I got up at four in the
morning and went to work, and I made a brick! And then
I made another brick! And then I made another brick!
And then I made this brick, isn't it a great brick?
Mom: Oh honey, it's a beautiful brick.
Dad: Would you believe it, the boss didn't like this
Mom: That boss doesn't know how lucky he is to have you.
He's an imbecile.
Dad: That's what I told him. So he fired me. (Boo Hoo).
Mom: (Boo Hoo) Well, at least you'll be spending more
time at home.
Dad: Yes, with my darling. And how is our home, sweety?
Mom: Oh honey, our home is slowly disappearing. the
walls are cracked, the roof is leaking, the fireplace
caved in, and the whole thing is slowly sinking into the
mud... there it goes.
(house sinks, babies cry)
Dad: Oh, and how are the kiddies?
Mom: Oh, they missed you so much! Come on kids, say hi
Dad: Oh Freddy, my Eddie, little Teddy, Neddie, etc.
Oh Ibal, Daddy's little bouncing ball!
Mom: Iqbal, the light of our lives. But what are we
going to do with all these children, no job, and no house?
(Carpet Manufacturer [hand puppet] in)
CM: Hello, my name is Joe the successful carpet merchant.
Dad: And we're poverty-stricken, bankrupt day laborers.
Pleased to make your acquaintance. What can we do for you?
CM: I've been admiring your son Iqbal from afar.
Dad: Oh yes, he's our darling, everybody's darling.
CM: Yes, he's a wonderful boy, and I'm here to make you an
offer you can't refuse.
Mom: Well, we're in no position to refuse any offers.
CM: I, illustrious, thoroughly successful, intelligent and
totally humble carpet merchant, am ready and willing to take
your son on as an apprentice in the carpet business. More
than that, I am ready to pay 100 rupees for two years of
Mom: He's too young and tender to be sent so far away.
Dad: He's only four years old.
CM: You ingrates, you peasants, don't you realize that if
your son comes to me, he will be educated far beyond his
station. He will be trained in the ancient art of carpet
making. He will be fed like a king, earn hundreds of thousands
of rupees and be cared for like my only son. And besides
that, I'm willing to pay 200 rupees.
Dad: Sir, my family's survival depends on your charity.
CM: Do we have a deal?
Mom: You will always be remembered in our prayers as our
savior from beggery and destitution.
Both: Bye, bye, Iqbal, be good, don't forget us!
(Carpet Merchant [person] enters with [bunraku] Iqbal)
Judy: 200 rupees. 200 rupees. Seems like a lot, doesn't
it? But the fact is, Iqbal was sold for about twelve bucks.
CM: Sit on down, Iqbal, and listen to this.
I: OK, boss!
Iqbal, now you belong to me
Let's take a minute while I explain
We are remaking business and industry
And you're just a link in the chain
The growth of international trade
Requires cheap goods for American stores
The more you work and the less you are paid
The more investment capital soars
No more will unions force business to pay
Their workforce ridiculous salaries
Multinational is the new word of the day
And you and your work will bring them to their knees
Judy: [with paper movie crankie] Rugs. Lets just throw a little light on the subject
of Persian Rugs. Actually, these incredibly beautiful
and outrageously expensive commodities don't go by the name
of 'Persian rugs' at all. No, they're called 'hand knotted
carpets' because in every square inch of this carpet, for
example, there are 2600 itty bitty silk knots which are just
too small for big hands to tie. Which is why jamokes like this
guy need the small hands and easily disciplined minds and bodies
of children. How about that!
CM: Now, to work! Twist, and through, and tie that knot.
Twist, and through, and tie that knot.....
Iqbal: I'm humgry!
CM: Well, you'll have your bowl of rice in only eight hours.
Iqbal: I'm thirsty!
CM: Iqbal, you'll get a cup of water when you've worked
another six hours.
Iqbal: I'm tired!
CM: Iqbal, don't be such a baby; we have a fourteen hour
work-day here, get used to it!
Judy: Iqbal was a smart cookie and he caught on fast. But the
weather was hot, and the work was tiring. The weeks went by,
the months went by. And as he worked, he dreamed.
Poet: He dreams that he walks and he walks and he walks on the
dusty road. And the dust flies up in little clouds, and the
cicadas sing. And he walks into the village, where he sees
a trophy. It is the award he got for fine rug-making that
was presented to his parents by Miss Universe herself. (Tada [toy trumpet])
Iqbal: Can I come home now?
Parents: Sure. Come home.
Iqbal: I'm tired and I want to go home!
CM: Iqbal, Iqbal, Iqbal, what a silly boy you are!
Don't you remember that I advanced your parents 200
rupees? Don't you know that you have to repay that debt? Back to
work! Twist, and through, and tie that knot, twist, and
through, and tie that knot....
Judy: The months turned into seasons, and the seasons into
years, and his only comfort was his dreams.
Poet: He dreams that he walks and he walks, until he reaches
the arctic, and the snow falls down, soft like feathers, and
he skips across the arctic sea on the icebergs, and the penguins
sing to him. And under the ice is where the dinosaurs hide.
But they come out and talk to him because he's an arctic
explorer, and he's the famous dinosaur discoverer. And he's
rich and famous all the world over.
CM: Hey, wake up, back to work!
Iqbal: I've been working for you for two years now, and I
think that I've repaid the 200 rupees, and it's time for me to go home!
CM: Iqbal, Iqbal, Iqbal! Yes, you've been working for me
for two years. Haven't I given you a roof over your head?
CM: And haven't I taken care of you?
Iqbal: Sort of.
CM: And haven't I fed you?
CM: And hasn't that cost money? You don't owe me 200 rupees
now; you owe me 400!
Iqbal: And if I work for you for another two years, I'll owe
you another 200 rupees?
CM: See, I'm educating you too, so get to work, to work!
Poet: And Iqbal dreams again. He dreams that he's free as a bird
(music) and can fly away anytime he wants.
Carpet Manufacturer reenters. Chains Iqbal down)
CM: We have something for little boys who try to run away.
Judy: Oh, that Carpet Manufaturer really gets my goat! Iqbal's
dreaming days were over, and he had a nightmare.
Poet: And in his nightmare, he's covered by the dark sky. [cloth] And the
stars begin to appear. And he dreams that he comes to America, and
America is all green.[cloth] And America has strawberry trees, pear trees,
and orange trees.[toys] And there are cows and dinosaurs and cartoons
every day. And then Iqbal lives in America. And he drives a car,
and with this car he can go to school. He drives and drives, looking
for a Teacher. Oops, his car broke down! But here's a helpful man
from AAA. "Ah, you have a problem with your higgity-wog. Just needs
a good swift kick." And he's off again! And at the top of the
mountain he finds his teacher. [Mickey Mouse] And with his teacher he
learns the wisdom of the ages, and he studies and he studies, and he
grows up to become a tourist. And he gets married to a lovely woman and
has tourist children,[coke bottles] and they all go to Disneyworld,
of course. They fly across the sea. [green packing material]
But when they get to the land of Disney, how different it is
from how they imagined it! It's ugly and barren and filled with
pollution, and there they see a building which says Disney. [birdcage]
And inside this building, they find a ferocious factory. And inside
this factory are men, women and children working like crazy. The
Disneyness is flying out of it at a staggering rate. And who's
running it? It's Mickey Mouse! And he's so mean to all the people,
Mouse: This is your education, Iqbal!
All: WAKE UP! WAKE UP!....
(Judy sings Pirate Jenny song)
All: WAKE UP! WAKE UP!....
Iqbal: I want the real sea. I want to see the starry sky!
No more chains! I'm setting myself free... and I'm
going to free all the other kids too! I am free! We are free!
(Breaks free and dances off to crankie)
Judy: We are free! We are free! And that's how Iqbal
busted out of there. He even found an honest lawyer.
He won his freedom. Then he joined the Bonded labor
Liberation Front, and Iqbal helped to free over 3000 other
kids from bonded labor. He might have been small, but he
was one tough bialy!
Iqbal: I used to be afraid of the carpet masters;
now they are afraid of me.
(Iqbal dances out)
How charming the life of this child
When peacefully working and dreaming
But now you see he's run wild
Yelling and fighting and scheming
This kid is trouble, I see that he
Must go, to protect our economy.
Judy: Meanwhile, all over the world, people were finally
starting to talk about child slavery. Even at the Broad
Meadows School in Quincy, Massachusetts.
[cardboard stick puppets]
Girl: Ahem.... Hi.. Iqbal came to our school. He had a
pen and a carpet tool in his hands. He held up the carpet
tool, and said that this is not the tool children should
have, they should have the pen. He was so small! I
thought that if Iqbal could make a difference, so could
I. We started to talk about it.
Boy: Did you hear about that kid from Pakistan - he was
practically a slave!
Girl: Pakistan's not the only place. Do you know those
soccer balls we pay 25 bucks for? They're made by mexican
kids who only get paid pennies.
Boy: Well, it's the same thing in Honduras. They got people
making shirts for starvation wages.
Girl: What about China?
Boy: What about Haiti?
Girl: What about right here in the United States? I had
a friend who was working at Wal-Mart every night until two
in the morning, and he dropped out of school.
Boy: What about the kids of migrant farm workers? They
don't get to school at all.
Girl: Let's do something about it.
All: Let's do something about it.
Small Kid: Let's chop up the bad guys and make them into
All: Ummm..... I don't think so.
Boy: Maybe we can find out what companies use child labor.
Girl: And then we can write them letters.
Boy: And if they don't listen...
Girl: We can start a petition.
Boy: Let the other kids know.
Girl: And boycott their products if we have to.
All: Free the kids! Free the kids!
Iqbal: I am one of those millions of children who are suffering
in Pakistan through bonded labor and child labor, but I am
luck that I go out in freedom. Today, you are free and
I am free too. The owner of the business tells us that it
is America which asks us to enslave the children there. I
appeal to you that you stop people from using children as
bonded labor. We have a slogan at school when our children
get free. And I request you today to join me in raising that
We are - free!
We are - free!
We are - free!
Poet: Iqbal returned to his home in Pakistan
Iqbal: I got a bike!
Poet: And lived with his grandmother.
Iqbal: I'm going to school!
Poet: And continued his struggle against child slavery.
This boy is thoroughly annoying!
He's always in my way!
If only someone would do something
That would make my day!
Solving problems is my game
I fix both great and small
To brood on troubles would be a shame
When I can end them all.
Poet: Four months after his visit to Quincy, MA, on April
16, 1996, Iqbal was shot.
Judy: [to Big Business]
Just a minute, buddy! You think that this is the end of
Iqbal; well, I've got news for you: IT'S NOT!
[Judy and BB out]
[toy students and school]
Poet: On April 16, 1996 we were on our week-long April
vacation when we heard on the news that Iqbal Masih had been
shot and killed while riding his bike near his grandmother's
house in Pakistan. About 40 students gravitated to our closed
school. Somehow, we got the school opened and crowded into
the classroom to grieve. Eventually, we figured out how we
would respond. I suggested that we build a school in Iqbal's
memory in Pakistan. My classmates agreed, and we began e-mailing
information on the scholastic network to other middle schools
across the country about our plans to build a school for Iqbal.
We asked classes on line to learn about child bonded labor,
about Iqbal, and to donate 12 dollars per class to the fund we
had set up at a local bank. We are asking for 12 dollar
donations because Iqbal was 12 when he visited our class,
and 12 when he received the Reebock Youth in Action Award.
He was sold at the age of four for the equivalent of 12 US
dollars and he was 12 when he was murdered. We realize that
building one school will not end child bonded labor, but
building this school will help us remember Iqbal. Building
this school builds hope for the millions of children still in
bonded labor. If Iqbal can hear us, and I think he is here
listening, I know he is proud of all we have done.
That is the story of Iqbal Masih
Though his life was short, and often sad
I wish for you the joys he had
To slip your chains and speak your mind
And make friends in the life you find
To travel beyond the shining sea
And dream yourself a world that's free.