Free the Children comes to Queen’s for Homecoming

Craig Kielburger works to make Queen’s students agents of change

Craig Kielburger co-founded Free the Children at the age of 12.
Craig Kielburger co-founded Free the Children at the age of 12.

As a kickoff to Homecoming weekend, students and alumni gathered in Duncan McArthur Hall Auditorium on Friday night to listen to a speech by Craig Kielburger, the co-founder of Free the Children.

Free the Children is an international charity that works to educate and empower today’s youth to become leaders and agents of change. Kielburger started the organization in 1996 when he was 12 years old, with the help of his grade seven classmates.

Kielburger said his inspiration in founding this organization stemmed from his refusal to turn a blind eye to the story of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child slave who was killed in 1995 after speaking out for children’s rights, which he read in the Toronto Star. Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child rights activist, spoke out against this injustice and was imprisoned.

Kielburger said he was outraged by this and, with a group of classmates, collected signatures to help free Satyarthi.

“Freedom is something we take for granted,” Kielburger said.

Throughout the talk, he instructed the audience on how to become their own agents of change. He said he believes that everyone is capable of leaving a positive mark on the world.

“I’ll never forget the moment I saw the kids step into the light,” he said, describing a factory raid he accompanied Satyarthi on when he was 12.

Kielburger spoke to the audience on the extent of illiteracy and lack of rights in more than 45 countries.

“If you’ve never learned you have human rights, it’s easy to have them exploited,” he said.

Kielburger said after the completion of Free the Children’s first school, he watched in awe as the children raced towards the entrance. The crowd of future students all stopped at the entrance, she said, bestowing the honour of opening the door to a grade eight girl who had to walk for hours to reach the school.

“It’s not enough just to build a school,” he said, adding that it’s how it’s used that matters.

“Educators have the greatest challenge,” he said.

He said today’s generation is in danger of becoming passive bystanders, but teachers have the opportunity to “awaken the gift each student possess[es]”.

Free the Children has both student campaigns and university chapters.

“The world needs to empower people,” Kielburger said.

All issues are solvable if one has the will to solve them, he said, and Free the Children offers a basis for people to educate themselves.

“How do you work every single day knowing you can’t help every person?” Kielburger asked.

He answered by paraphrasing Mother Teresa: “In our lives we do no great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

“That’s how we can change the world,” he said.

Queen’s Free the Children (QFTC) campus club is the most active Free the Children chapter in the world, according to Kielburger. QFTC is currently funding two Adopt-A-Village projects and received the Big Dreamers Award in 2011.

Club member Maria Reisdorf, who introduced Kielburger, said the club has helped her decide what she’ll do in her future career.

“Through what Craig has said to me and through what I’ve learned through Free the Children, I’ve decided to become a human rights lawyer,” said Reisdorf, ArtSci ’18.

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