THE BLOG

Twenty Years Of Children Freeing Children

04/20/2015 04:47 EDT | Updated 06/20/2015 05:59 EDT
Free the Children

Whenever I encounter people who are skeptics or people that are surprised at my passion, interest and my age, I think about my friend, Craig Kielburger.

Twenty years ago this week, on April 19, 1995, Craig was searching through the newspaper for the comic section on a Saturday morning when he stumbled across an article that would change the way he looked at the world forever.

It was the story of Iqbal Masih. When Iqbal was four years old, he was sold into child labour. For six years, he was chained to a carpet weaving loom until one day he miraculously escaped. He began to speak out against child labour. He told anyone and everyone who would listen about the hundreds and thousands of children like him. Every time he spoke out, carpet sales went down. People couldn't ignore him anymore. He started receiving invitations to talk about child labour. He even spoke at the United Nations!

But one day, when Iqbal was riding his bike in his hometown, he was shot and killed. Iqbal was 12 years old when he died. The same age Craig was at the time. The same age I am now.

Craig tore the article out of the paper and brought it to his class. He asked his teacher if he could read the article and what he had learned about child labour so far. He said, "I don't know much about child labour but I know it's wrong. Who wants to join me to stop it?" Eleven hands slowly went up. They called their organization "The 12 12-Year-Olds." But...they had to change the name when one of them turned 13!

Now it's the 20th anniversary of Free The Children, the name Craig now called his organization. Free The Children has grown to a network of 8.3 million young people from 8,500 schools dedicated to freeing the cycle of poverty and freeing young people from the thought that they are powerless to change the world. Free The Children has now built over 650 schools, has donated over $16 million to healthcare, has given over one million people in developing communities clean water for life and so much more. And they have just reached a huge milestone last month with their 50th We Day across Canada, the U.S. and the UK.

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We Day Vancouver 2014

Craig's story teaches that we are never too young to change the world. People need to recognize that no matter your age, you can change the world. In my journey as a changemaker, I have learned that one small action can turn into something bigger than you ever imagined. Craig and his brother Marc have shown me that.

I want to share with you 5 more things that I have learned from Craig and Marc -- my friends, role models and mentors -- over the past few years.

1. Education is important. Craig recently told me to learn as many languages as I can. He said that it will help when you start to travel and get to know people later on in life.

2. When you first step onto a stage, take a deep breath, look around the audience and take it all in. Craig told me this before I got on the We Day stage for the very first time. I was nervous and excited and to this day, I still remember that first time speaking in front of a large audience.

3. Always shine the brightest light on your team and support system. Marc and Craig always show gratitude to all of the people that support them -- their teams at Free The Children, Me to We and We Day, volunteers, sponsors, donors and students. These people are a big reason why Free The Children continues to grow bigger than anyone would ever think.

4. Give thanks to your teachers and parents. Marc and Craig talk often about the support and encouragement that they got from their teachers and parents over the years. It was (and is) one of the most important things to them.

5. When you find that you can't do something alone, call a Minga. I really love a story that Marc shares about a Minga. A Minga is a community working together to accomplish something. When Marc and Craig were in Ecuador trying to build a school, they realized they didn't have enough time as they were leaving soon. The leader of the community saw this and called all the people in the village to help build the school. And they did it. They worked together as a team and accomplished something awesome!

To Craig and Marc, thank you so much for all the work that you do. You have made us all know that we are never too young to change the world, to do it together, be creative, there are so many more things but if I kept writing, this would be a very long blog post.

You have helped so many developing communities and have given them education, clean water, healthcare, food and income. You have given them the tools and resources to keep sustaining themselves with these necessities to make it on their own. You have given young people a voice and made them realize that we are not powerless to change the world.

And on a very personal note, thank you for believing in me and sharing your journey with me. I'm proud to be Free the Children Ambassador and a Me to We Speaker. But most importantly, I'm very honoured to call you my friends.

If you want to learn more about Free The Children and the amazing work that they do, you can go to freethechildren.com for more information.

hannah alper