What do you do after you’ve made your fortune developing games for Playstation and other devices? For John Rowe and his friend, Lale Labuko, retirement involved stopping ritualistic killing of children.
Rowe and Labuko are tackling the problem of Mingi in Ethiopia, the belief that a baby is “cursed” if it is born out of wedlock “or, even more bizarrely, if the child’s top teeth appear before the bottom teeth,” NBC reports.
Children declared mingi are thought to bring drought, famine or disease to the tribe — so they are killed. Helpless infants are drowned in the Omo River, left to die in the bush, or suffocated — their mouths filled with soil to stop them from breathing. It’s impossible to know how many children have suffered this fate but – as the practice is so old and ingrained – experts estimate the number is many thousands.
Lale Labuko grew up in a village where mingi dominated local traditions, though he didn’t realize what was happening until he was a teenager.
“What changed my life is when I was 15-years-old, I was walking in the village,” said Labuko. “And I saw the elders run and they grabbed a two-year-old child from the mother. And I was just watching and looking. And the mother was crying. And the child was crying.”
Horrified, he ran to his mother to ask what was happening.
“She warned me not to tell other people: ‘If you tell other people our family will be in risk,'” Labuko said. He learned that the baby, a girl, had been taken from its mother and drowned in a river.
“And I was really, really crying. And my mother said, ‘Well, son, don’t cry. One day you will kill your child and your friend is going to kill their child.'”
Years after Labuko and Rowe met each other, Labuko shared he secret. And Rowe promised to “draw a line in the sand,” to save the children.
And they have.