May 2001 - Craig Kielburger: Founder of Free The Children
One day six years ago, when I was getting ready for school, I reached for the comic section of the daily newspaper – just to have my laugh for the day. On the front page, I saw a photograph of a young boy wearing a red vest, raising his fist high in the air. The headline read: “Battled Child Labor, Boy, 12, Murdered!”
I guess it was because I also was twelve years old at the time that the story attracted my attention. The article was about a young boy from Pakistan, who, for sixteen dollars, had been sold into slavery as a carpet weaver and had spoken out against child labor in defense of his peers.
I had never heard of child labor, but I was amazed that someone so young could be such a great hero. I did some research and discovered that there are 250 million child laborers in the world – many working in slave-like conditions. Reading this story inspired me and motivated me to take action. I gathered together a group of friends and we founded the organization called Free The Children – which has since become an international network of children helping children.
Over the past six years, in my travels for Free The Children, I have met with street and working children in over forty countries. Children like eight-year-old Jeffrey, who spends his days sifting through a Manila garbage dump searching for plastics and other items to sell in order to help his family survive. Children like Munillal, who had been sold into slavery as a carpet weaver, but never lost the hope that he would see his mother again one day. Children like the girls I met in India, who carried their friend from place to place because she had no legs. Children like the students of St. Joan of Arc School in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, who sold their toys and did odd jobs to raise money to build a Free The Children school in Nicaragua.
When we first started Free The Children, we were just a group of friends – all of us twelve years old. Today, there are over one hundred thousand young people in more than twenty countries around the world who have become involved in Free The Children’s activities. We have raised funds to build more than 200 primary schools in the rural areas of developing countries, shipped over 50,000 school kits to disadvantaged children around the world, established alternative income projects, built rural health clinics and distributed $1,500,000 dollars worth of medical supplies. Our members have challenged governments and companies to protect children’s rights. Our sister organization, Leaders Today, organizes overseas youth volunteer trips to Asia, Africa and Latin America. We host leadership training and social activism academies and conferences across North America.
Only when we, young people, from around the world raise our voices in unison, will we see an end to poverty, abuse and suffering. We are the Generation that we have been waiting for!