"Children aren't simply
empty vessels waiting to be filled,
we're people with ideas, talents, opinions and dreams."
- Craig Kielburger
The Global Canadian Boy
By Essam Farag
Last March, I was fortunate to hear from the Collaborative International Development department at University of Guelph about Craig Kielburger's lecture at the War Memorial Hall during Citizenship Awareness Month.
Kielburger, the young gentleman who founded Free The Children, a worldwide advocacy organization started his organization when he was 12, after reading an article about a young boy from Pakistan named Iqbal who had been sold into bondage as a carpet weaver when he was only 4, escaped and was later murdered for speaking out against child labor. Free The Children has grown into an influential international children's organization. The group supports water projects, health clinics, alternative income cooperatives and schools in 21 developing nations. The organization has raised money to build 350 primary schools, providing education every day to 20,000 children as well as building rehabilitation centers and medical clinics for children in the developing world.
Now, 20, Craig has traveled to more than 40 countries, visiting "working children" and speaking in defense of children's rights. He also frequently addresses government bodies, unions, business groups, educators and students, and has met with political and religious leaders including Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II, Mother Teresa, former Canadian PM Jean Cretien and the Dalai Lama. Craig was one of the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 and received many prestigious awards including the State of the World Forum Award and Roosevelt's Freedom From Fear Medal. His work has been featured on TV programs including Oprah, 60 Minutes and in major publications such as the New York Times, People and Time magazines. He is author of Free The Children and co-author with his older brother Marc of Take Action - A Guide to Active Citizenship for Youth.
Dream Becomes Reality
Iqbal, the boy behind Craig's enthusiasm had never been to school and never had the freedom of a normal child. When at last he was freed from enslavement by the Pakistani police, Iqbal tried to bring child slavery to public attention. He demonstrated and spoke with journalists, however he was murdered for his activism--a crime that to this day remains unsolved.
Craig was the same age as Iqbal, yet, their worlds were very different. and this shocked him, making him dig deeper into the issue discovering that there were thousands of children like Iqbal who had been kidnapped and enslaved to work in carpet factories and with hazardous materials. He also discovered that carpets made in these factories were being imported into Canada and other countries--motivating him to raise public awareness about this issue.
Along with his school mates they formed Free The Children, signed petitions and wrote letters to world leaders, including the Canadian prime minister, to bring to the surface the issues of child factory enslavement and child prostitution.Two years later, Craig went to the slums, sweatshops, and back alleys of South Asia to find those enslaved children. He accompanied police on a raid to free children in a factory, and he went with the police when those children were returned to their parents. He talked with the families about their joys and hardships. Free The Children directed its focus on a pair of goals; to ensure that Canada would investigate the process of labeling imported rugs to identify those not made by children, and to change the law allowing police to criminally charge Canadians who use child prostitutes in foreign countries.
A Boy's Global Message
In his travels, he said he found two
extremes. In many developing countries, children are often asked to work long
hours at hazardous jobs with no opportunity to play or go to school. They are
not allowed to develop physically, intellectually, and emotionally as they
should. They sometimes even support entire families as well as fight in wars.
They are given too much responsibility at too young an age.
At the other extreme, in many industrialized countries everything is done for children. They are segregated most of their lives with members of their own age group and given little opportunity to assume responsibility, to develop a social conscience, or to benefit through interactions with adults. Through media they learn to be consumers, gaining self-image through the clothes they wear. Craig felt that this too is a form of exploitation that undermines their ability to form an opinion, conditioning them to become passive bystanders and consumers.
While still studying Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, Craig has devoted a lot of his time speaking to Canadian youth, at schools and universities, to bring to their attention the injustices that children are facing in other parts of the world and motivating them take action as global citizens. The lecture held at the University of Guelph was extremely uplifting and motivating to the more than 350 people in attendance. The speech was structured within the framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), whereby Craig went through several Articles in the UDHR talking about their implications to children and adding a personal experience from his travels that demonstrated each of their importance.
Although I am already personally involved and motivated in global human rights issues, I was truly moved and stirred up by Craig's lecture, particularly the closing inspirational video which began with the well known words of Martin Luther King Jr. However, it was two particular quotes from Craig’s presentation that I wish to close with. They express the importance of his cause, and his optimism about the future.
"Everyone is 'gifted', and we need to share our talents"
"The world is a mosaic, and we are stronger together"
- Craig Kielburger (January 22, 2004)
Who is Who?
Craig is the only youth to be portrayed in the MEGASTARS section of The Ambassadors Magazine alongside world celebrities like Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Kofi Annan, Victor McKusick, Clarke Fraser, D.S. Borgaonker, Edward Said, Mohsen El-Hazmi, the Queen Mother, Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, international cartoonist Toughan, international psychologist Louis Meleika, and the distinguished anthropologist and dysmorphologist, Samia Temtamy and Fawzia Hussein.
The extraordinary story of the young Canadian peacemaker, the defender of children's human rights, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee showcases the extraordinary abilities of this young man. An intelligent, hardworking, determined, devoted, decision-maker, persistent, positive role model who puts others before himself, Craig is an inspiration. He was taught early by his mother that life can have different challenges. Interestingly, Craig had a speech problem earlier in his life making it harder for him to talk to other people, but with the help of a speech therapist he was able to speak properly at the age of 10. Life’s challenges always come with a sense of irony. Only two years later, at the age of 12, Craig made a career about of speaking by becoming a spokesperson for children's rights. Today he runs one of the world's largest children-run non-profit organization fighting for children's rights!
Craig's Books, Video & Links
Free The Children - www.freethechildren.org
Youth Ambassadors for Peace - www.freethechildren.org/peace
Take Action! Tour - www.leaderstoday.com/take_action
Farag, BA Honors (Dalhousie), MA (Guelph) is a historian and political
scientist. He is the Production Editor of The Ambassadors Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org