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Behind the Headlines: Can Good Come of Newtown's Grief?

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Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events.
In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.

The headline that got us thinking: How can we find meaning after a tragedy?

Our hearts are with the community of Newtown at this time of unimaginable tragedy and loss. We wish to offer our heartfelt support to the victims, their families and the residents of the tiny Connecticut community as it mourns 20 of its children.

Across the country, American school children act in solidarity with their peers at Sandy Hook.

Students have turned handwritten notes into paper cranes as part of the Folding For Good project, a worldwide effort to make 1,000 paper cranes for the school. Japanese legend has it that the crane brings good fortune, love and prosperity; folding 1,000 grants a wish.

A meme for good has erupted in the form of #26Acts of Kindness on Facebook and #26Acts on Twitter. These are online pledge forms to honour each of the victims with smalls acts of kindness, and to help restore our faith in humanity when, understandably, some find it waning.

The "acts" have included putting change in a stranger's parking meter and excavating a neighbour's car from the snow. On Twitter, one man in west Florida says he paid the toll for the 26 cars behind him to cross the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Even these small gestures of good will can help bring meaning to our grief.

Following past tragedies, students have risen up with small or extraordinary acts.

Nina Tamburello was a 14-year-old in in Littleton, Colo., looking forward to one day attending Columbine High School, when she learned that two gunmen murdered 12 students and one teacher there. She, like so many others, was devastated. But Nina and her father, a music producer and composer, took action. They were inspired to create Lullaby for Columbine, a CD to raise funds for the victims' families and provide healing through music. As word spread, local and national musicians offered songs. It was released in November of 1999 and raised nearly half a million dollars.

Sam Granillo was a 17-year-old junior at Columbine on that day in April, 1999. He and 17 other Columbine students were stuck in the cafeteria's kitchen office, a room with no lock, for about three hours. They held the door shut with their feet as the two killers pounded to get it open. Granillo lost three of his close friends.

All these years later, Granillo and other survivors still suffer grave psychological pain. Now, Granillo is making a documentary, Columbine: Wounded Minds that will support therapy for witnesses of the Columbine shooting and other tragedies. Granillo lost another friend to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado at a screening of the new Batman film this past July.

He survived Columbine and turned his waking nightmare into a means to help others through the healing process.

After the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed 32 lives in 2007, the school band, the Marching Virginians, wanted to honour the victims and help the community. The band partnered with Community Housing Partners to build a home in memory of Ryan "Stack" Clark, a former band member and victim of the campus shooting. The Marching Virginians are known locally as the Spirit of Tech.

We understand how young people can be shocked and moved to do something out of tragedy, near or far.

Free The Children was born out of a distant tragedy that hit very close to home.

Craig, just 12, was reaching for the comics in the newspaper one day in 1995 when he saw a headline about another 12-year-old in Pakistan who'd been killed.

Iqbal Masih had been sold to a carpet factory as a debt-bonded labourer. He was beaten, starved and chained to a carpet loom. He escaped, and instead of hiding, spoke out publicly for child rights. He even traveled to the United States to speak out again child labour and was awarded the World's Children's Prize. He was later shot dead.

Craig brought the newspaper clipping about Iqbal's murder to his class and asked for help to find out more information. Eleven hands went up. Free The Children was born.

Today, Iqbal's story continues to drive the organization to help young people raise their voices against injustice. Every day, we strive to ensure that he didn't fight in vain. And every day, young people all over the world raise awareness and funds for local and global issues. Everything we do at Free The Children is in Iqbal's memory.

Instinctively, we want to shield children from pain, especially from stories of the horrifying death of other children. It's important to shelter the youngest children; but parents would be surprised that even the youngest children are aware of what has happened.

Let youngsters ask questions, and if they express a desire to help, be ready with simple ways. This is not to take away from the necessary process of remembrance and grieving -- even from afar -- but it does show the power of good. When those 20 little lives were lost, an important good was taken away from the world. Instinctively, people want to put some good back in to the world.

What will come of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the coming weeks and months remains to be seen. But in the wake of this and other tragedies, young people have proven that strength, resilience and compassion can prevail. We can bring meaning to these atrocities that seem to negate all that is right in the world. Through our grief, we can find good.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com

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