Friday, April 14, 2006

Free The Children & Kidz Helping Kidz: Two Stories Of Kid Power

I love writing articles about young people who get involved in making the world a better place. And the two people I am going to write about today are pretty young.

The first is Craig Kielburger who was 12-years-old when he founded Free The Children in 1995. He accomplished this by gathering 11 of his school friends to begin fighting child labour. Ten years later and Free The Children is now the largest network of children helping children through education in the world, and there are more than one million young people involved in their programs in 45 countries.

Today, Craig Founded is recognized as an international child rights activist and Free The Children has an established track record of success. This is borne out by the three Nobel Peace Prize nominations and other awards it has received. Additionally, the organization has partnered with the United Nations and Oprah's Angel Network.

One of the unique aspects of Free The Children is that it is both funded and driven by children and youth. This, I believe is unlike any other children's charity in the world.

The mission of Free The Children is to free young people from the idea that they are powerless to bring about positive social change, and encourage them to act now to improve the lives of young people everywhere.

In case you are wondering how a 12 year-old got started putting together an internationally known Human Rights NGO, Free The Children's web site can tell you the story. But briefly, one day when Craig was looking for the comics in the local Toronto Star he saw an article about a 12 year-old Pakistani boy who was murdered for speaking out against child labor.

At the time, Craig was the same age as this boy and the differences between his life and that boy's shocked him.

Craig soon discovered that there were 250 million child laborers in the world, often for long hours and in hazardous conditions. At that point, he decided to help, so he gathered a group of his friends and they started Free The Children.

The initial goal of Free The Children was the same as it is today, but now, the organization has grown to more than a million supporters who work together toward the goal of freeing children from abuse, exploitation, and the idea that they are not old enough or smart enough or capable enough to change the world.

In addition to its many awards, Free The Children can be proud of its other accomplishments, which include the following:

"o Built 400 Free The Children schools around the world, providing education to more than 35,000 children every day
o Delivered 200,000 school and health kits to students around the world
o Implemented alternative income projects helping more than 20,000 people
o Shipped $9 million dollars in essential medical supplies to 40 countries
o Provided healthcare centers and community funding helping 500,000 people
o Helped 125,000 people by providing access to clean water and improved sanitation"

It has also:

"o Lobbied corporations to adopt standard labelling for child-labour free products
o Worked with the Canadian government to pass a law to prosecute Canadians who travel overseas to sexually exploit children
o Selected as the lead non-governmental organization (NGO) partner by the United Nations Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
o Successfully worked with the Brazilian government to allocate an additional $1 million for programs to help support child labourers"

Free The Children has received plenty of media coverage, including:

60 Minutes, CNN, Global Television, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, National broadcasts in Japan, Israel, Morocco, Chile, Sweden

as well as:

The Globe and Mail, The International Herald Tribune, The Jerusalem Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek magazine,The Times of London and
The Washington Post

but there can never be too much of spreading the word about the great things these young people are doing.

The other young person I want to write about is Joshua Defazio. Joshua is an 11 year-old 6th grade student who "just felt the need to help other children in developing countries."

Joshua began his efforts after viewing a presentation shown by Engineers Without Borders at his school on water contamination and the effects on the children and their families in countries like Kenya. Joshua, with the help of his family began doing research on this subject and came to realize that they needed to do something to help. He found the Free The Children web site to be very helpful and he was able to get all the information he needed to start his very own Youth in Action Group. Soon after Joshua and his classmates began spreading awareness at their own school exhibition on Water Diseases and the effects on these children. He has many fundraising projects lined up to raise money and awareness on the need for such a basic necessity in life like "WATER".

Joshua and his Youth Action Group, which is now called "Kidz Helping Kidz," have been conducting fundraisers and the funds collected will be going to Free The Children, which will put in place a much needed water and sanitation project in a village in Kenya.

These are two truly inspiring stories of kid power and you can read more about them at the following web sites and see what you can do to help these great organizations.

Craig Kielburger and Free The Children

Joshua Defazio and Kidz Helping Kidz

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