[image from freethechildren.com]
"If we are going to achieve true peace, it is going to have to begin with the children," says Craig Kielberger, co-founder, with his brother Marc, of Free the Children.
When Craig was twelve years old, he came across a newspaper article about a boy his age, a child labourer who had been murdered, and was profoundly impacted by the accident of birth which gave him a life of privilege and the other boy a life of hard labour and, ultimately, death.
Craig gathered together twelve of his friends and began the Free the Children movement. He started out by raising funds to build one well in a village in Africa. He traveled there to see the resulting well. That was just the beginning.
His movement soon went global and now does incredible work in the developing world, by empowering young people in North America to get involved, "be the change", and raise funds. Then it applies funds to the Adopt a Village movement, which empowers communities in the developing world to take part in breaking free of poverty. The results are tangible, on-the-ground change, with community members taking part in the transformation.
Once a year Craig and Marc host a televised inspirational concert to fire up and inspire young people to believe they can make a difference. Craig has shown us, since age twelve, what one person can do. He now co-directs a thriving international movement with weighty corporate sponsors. But it is to young people that he addresses his message: providing hope, inspiration and a concrete example of what can be achieved when people of good hearts care, and then put that caring into action on the ground.
Here is a quote from his book Free the Children, written when he was still a teenager:
Once past the gates and inside the high stone walls, it was as if the outside world had dropped away. Carved into a granite wall are Gandhi's words:
"Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj or self-rule for the hungry and also spiritually starved millions of our countrymen? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away."
With these words alone, (Craig writes), he had said so much. If the leaders of the world would only listen.
I walked slowly along one of the stone paths leading to the eternal flame that marked his cremation site. The black marble base was strewn with flowers, small tokens of the affection in which he is held. A true affection also lay in the hearts of people who could not afford flowers but who knew that the greatest leaders never forgot them - the poor and the helpless.
I remembered the flame later that day when at Kailash's house the family gathered around to offer their prayers.
Kailash put wood shavings and a scattering of herbs into a small metal bowl.
"It is not the fire we worship," he explained. "Fire is a symbol. All of us have a fire within us, but there is a need to ignite it. That fire will help to purify the mind, the heart, the soul."
He sprinkled water around the bowl. "Water is life; the earth is life. We must not waste water; we must not destroy the earth. The whole universe is one, and the creator of the universe is the one god who is almighty, who is merciful. We pray for wisdom and strength so that the entire world is like a family. And whatever we work through our hands should be sacred and good."
Then he struck a match to the contents of the bowl. The fire lit the darkness.