04/11/2014 05:17 EDT | Updated 06/11/2014 05:59 EDT

You Might Be Raising the Next Big Thing!

In 1971, Calgary teenager Ruth Roberts and friends staged a 'starve-in' in a church basement. Their goal: to raise funds for children suffering in a continent-wide African famine. That one event has since exploded into World Vision's 30 Hour Famine, a global youth movement raising millions for children in need. Here, Ruth urges Canadian parents to look for -- and nurture -- the spark of passion in their own children to change the world.

Some of the most amazing social movements in Canada over the years have been started by students. Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free the Children, have taught this generation that together "We" can make a difference around the world. David Shepherd and Travis Price from Nova Scotia started Pink Shirt Day (a.k.a. Anti-Bullying Day) which is now recognized across Canada, after seeing one of their classmates being bullied for wearing a pink shirt.

It's amazing to see how movements grow and snowball into something bigger and of greater impact than could ever have been imagined! Craig and Marc started an after school club with their friends. And David and Travis wanted to show support for a classmate that was being treated poorly. I bet none of them could have envisioned what their efforts would end up creating.

I think these are important stories, because I too started a movement over 40 years ago, when I was in high school. After seeing the devastating images on TV of children starving in Ethiopia, I decided I had to do something. I recruited my friends for what we called a "starve-in." This was the era of protests like "love-ins" and "sit-ins" so for us to take action on an issue that was important to us seemed like a natural thing to do.

We got our friends and family to sponsor us for every hour that we went without food. I raised about $50, and as a group we raised about $600 (which was a lot of money in 1971!) for World Vision's hunger projects. This movement became known over the years as 30 Hour Famine. I was surprised and so moved to learn this year that this fundraiser is now practiced annually in 21 countries around the world, and has raised close to a billion dollars for World Vision hunger projects around the world. And it all started because my friends and I were bored, and wanted to do something that would benefit someone else. There was nothing extraordinary about me in particular, and I'm sure that Marc and Craig, and David and Travis would say the same thing about themselves.

As parents, you very well may have the very next change-maker in your living room, some unassuming grade-schooler who is already planning the way he or she is going to make a difference. Perhaps they have already begun to make inroads, or maybe it will still be some time before inspiration strikes them and guides them in this direction.

I want to encourage you to be on the look out for this spark in your kids. Don't dismiss their ideas and dreams. Encourage and support them, and while it's important that they learn the life skills that they need, their imagination might end up making a huge difference in world -- whether they might start a charity movement, stumble on a scientific breakthrough or head up an innovative company.

These kids will likely need your help, and how you respond to them could make the difference between them realizing their potential or becoming discouraged and giving up. You've been entrusted with a very serious responsibility! Our youth leaders were John and Grace Jarvis, and they encouraged us along the way and suggested the World Vision would be a fitting beneficiary of our fundraiser.

Kids first need information and education before they can understand how they can make a difference. They need to be able to identify the problems that need solving. Where are the holes in our abilities or knowledge? Where does injustice and unfairness happen? They need to get this information from you. Please try to carve out time in your day to talk about these things, to have discussions with them, to listen to their opinions and to contribute the information that they need to have. And teach them about students like Craig and Marc, and David and Travis, to show them that kids can make a huge difference in the world. I think kids often have a feeling of helplessness and lack of power -- show them that this is not the case.

If your kids have done 30 Hour Famine in the past, thank you for participating. This movement has meant so much to me, and I am truly overwhelmed at what this has become. If they've never done this fundraiser, I would encourage you to consider whether this might be something they'd want to participate in -- a "night-of" event where you can discuss these types of issues with your kids might be the perfect time to get their creative juices flowing.

By Ruth Roberts