We Day and Craig Kielburger’s Free The Children Foundation
In 1995, an Ontario twelve-year-old read a Toronto Star headline that read: “Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered.” The article was about a boy named Iqbal Masih, a young Pakistani who was forced into work in a carpet factory at the age of four. Masih escaped the factory at ten and became an international symbol of our society’s dependency on child labour after joining the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) of Pakistan. He helped over 3,000 children escape bonded labour in collaboration with the BLLF, until his life was cut short in 1995. He was murdered in cold blood at the age of twelve.
The boy who read Iqbal’s story was called Craig Kielburger, and he was angered by it. He read as much as he could about child labour and wondered how it was that children like him were being bought and sold for the purpose of labour. He founded a group called the “Twelve-Twelve-Year-Olds”, a group that evolved into what we now know as Free The Children, intended to expose North Americans to child labour and get youth involved in change for the better. In December of that year, Kielburger travelled to Bangladesh to see the conditions in which bonded children worked. During his stay there, he found out that the then-Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was on a diplomatic visit to India. He arranged a press conference where he called for the Prime Minister to take action on the issue of child labour, and that Mr. Chrétien had a moral responsibility towards the children of the world. Impressed with the boy, Chrétien eventually met with Kielburger and discussed the matter with the President of Pakistan and Prime Minister of India.
Kielburger hasn’t stopped since. Free The Children is now a multinational organization that specializes in growth and development for children in 45 countries globally. He also founded Me to We, a social enterprise that sells fair-trade and ethically-produced products from around the world as well as provides youth volunteer trips to developing countries. Free The Children hosts the annual We Day, a conference for youth in cities across Canada, as well as workshops in schools that empower children and youth to make the changes they want to see in the world; by 2009, the organization had earned over $500 million in pledges to charities, built over 650 schools which educate up to 55,000 children, and provided over 150,000 volunteer hours.
Free The Children is no Kony 2012, no fat-cat “aid” organization that sits on its millions of dollars in profits while only a portion go to those in need; nor does it pretend a “white saviour” attitude, that these are poor, ignorant countries in need of Western help in order to thrive. Through it, real youth help to connect their realities with those of children in developing countries, freeing the children from poverty and themselves from the notion of powerlessness to make a change. It challenges the potential for good in all of us, and that is definitely a reason not to lose your faith in humanity quite yet.
– By Erin