Tragedy in Ethiopia has inspired compassion and nobility in New York City. Film footage about the starving children of Ethiopia has sadly become almost a TV news clich'e as the famine continues unabated. It was not until videotapes of the horror were broadcast on TV that most people were motivated enough to try to do something concrete. And even then -- and now -- shipments of grain are being held up by various difficulties -- mainly local politics and a shortage of trucks to distribute the food.
It is a pathetic story on every level, so it is with mixed emotions that I am able to report a joyous and uplifting television program concerning a group of people in New York who somehow managed to break through the bureaucratic red tape.
Try to Make a Miracle (ABC, Wednesday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings) is the story of ``Children for Children,'' a group of around 1 million New York City public school children who raised $250,000 in two weeks to send food to their counterparts in Ethiopia. Then, with the aid of an enlightened New York congressman, Gary L. Ackerman (D) of Queens, and the Save the Children Federation, they managed to charter an airplane (none of the 15 major airlines contacted would donate a plane, according to this documentary), rent trucks, and deliver the grain to the Ethiopian villagers, who were saved (at least temporarily) from starvation.
Tom Jarriel serves as correspondent as he follows the path of the money from the kids in New York to the kids in Ethiopia. En route there are some very disturbing pictures of Ethiopian children, but they are counterbalanced by wondrous footage of the New York children reacting to scenes which prove to them that their efforts have not been in vain.
There are moving comments from New York City children. One explains that although her family is on welfare, she now realizes how well off it is, comparatively speaking. Another little girl is embarrassed to recall that she often comes home from school and shouts, ``Mom, I'm starving'' when she wants a snack. After seeing real starvation, she is ashamed at her loose use of the word ``starvation.''
Though the program was originally planned as a segment on ``20/20,'' producer Janice Tomlin convinced executive producer Av Westin and ABC News president Roone Arledge that ``Try to Make a Miracle'' was so important that it deserved a special ``20/20'' hour of its own. It constitutes a major public service and will, one hopes, influence other children and adults to try to get food to Ethiopia in a no-nonsense, people-to-people way. The children, who are still raising funds today, make that plea directly on the air.
My only reservation about this program is the fact that it is being aired so late in the evening (10 o'clock) that many youngsters will miss it. But it is not a children's show by any means. It is a people show. Adults with VCRs should tape ``Try to Make a Miracle'' and play it for their youngsters at an earlier hour. Teachers should show videotapes in the classroom.
Or better yet, ABC should air it again on a Saturday morning so that millions of American youngsters can learn a lesson in humility, generosity, compassion, and commitment. A lesson that adults can learn as well. -- 30 --