The Welfare of Children
Issues of Society
The Welfare of Children
Source: The First Obligation:Lady Blomfield and the Save the Children Fund | The Life of Thomas Breakwell
‘Abdu’l-Baha was deeply concerned with the welfare of children. Historically, except for the privileged few, most children worked—either for their parents or for an outside employer. Often they were subjected to exploitation and had little to no legal protection. Additionally, they were among the most vulnerable in times of tragedy, especially in the case of war.
Of particular concern was the plight of millions of children, now orphaned or refugees as a result of the conflict. … Lady Blomfield made friends with Eglantyne Jebb. … She and her sister – Mrs Buxton – had heard much of the terrible misery in which the children of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe were plunged in the aftermath of the Great War. Their solution was to establish a Fund which would attend to the needs of these children.
They appealed to the … churches throughout Europe of all denominations collected on behalf’ of’ the children. Increasing numbers of Jewish and Muslim organisations began to show interest in their work as large numbers of children of their faiths were affected by famine and poverty.
‘Abdu’l-Baha was swift to praise the work of Jebb and Buxton and hoped that Lady Blomfield might influence them in accepting the Baha’i teachings. ‘My hope is that thou mayest be confirmed in the great cause (of saving children), which is the greatest service to the world of’ mankind. For the poor children are perishing from hunger and their condition is indeed pitiable. This is one of the evils of the war’ (Letter from ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Lady Blomfield, 11 March 1920, provisional translation).
Thomas Breakwell was raised in the small market town of Woking in Surrey. His father, Edward, was an ironmonger and a herbalist. Thomas, the youngest of five children, was educated at an ordinary state school before his family emigrated to the United States in 1888/9.
There Thomas was able to take up a responsible position in a cotton mill in one of the southern states, from which he derived a considerable income. His comfortable financial position enabled him to pay regular visits to his relatives in England each summer, and to take long holidays in Europe.
He was taught the Bahaʼi Faith by May Bolles (later to become May Maxwell) in the summer of 1901 in Paris, making him the first Englishman to convert to the Bahaʼí Faith and the first to make the pilgrimage to Acre, Palestine.
In his interview with ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Thomas explained how he enjoyed substantial remuneration from his work in the United States, but he also expressed a sudden conviction of sin when he added that these mills were run on child labour. The Master looked at him, gravely and silently, then said, ‘Cable your resignation.’
At ʻAbdu’l-Baha’s request, Breakwell took up permanent residence in Paris, where he worked enthusiastically to teach the religion and help develop the Paris Bahaʼí community.
O Lord! Make this youth radiant and confer Thy bounty upon this poor creature. Bestow upon him knowledge, grant him added strength at the break of every morn and guard him within the shelter of Thy protection so that he may be freed from error, may devote himself to the service of Thy Cause, may guide the wayward, lead the hapless, free the captives and awaken the heedless, that all may be blessed with Thy remembrance and praise. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.