Building a School This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Worldwide, there are 250 million child laborers, and half work full time. Hundreds are sold into child labor, sometimes because parents can’t pay their debts. Children as young as eight are given guns and sent to kill kids their own age. There are children all over the world dying of starvation and diseases that could easily be helped with some food and vaccinations that are readily available to Americans.

The first time my eyes were opened to children’s rights was when I was 15. Louise Kent, a representative of Free the Children, gave a speech at my school, sharing this story I will never forget. Craig Kielburger was 12 when he sat down for breakfast and to read the day’s comics. He came across an article about a boy his age who escaped from child labor and was murdered for speaking about his experiences. Craig was upset and took the article to school. He asked who would help him and with a group of friends, started Free the Children.

Craig traveled to countries where he saw child laborers and poverty firsthand. He also started giving speeches to people three times his age. He was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and received the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award. His organization has already helped over a million children.

This was an impressive story. I could not believe a kid three years younger than me had accomplished so much. His story motivated everyone who heard it to do something about the problems of the world.

That first burst of awareness faded, but a year later an organization at my school announced a meeting dedicated to social justice. Marc Kielburger, the older brother of Free the Children’s founder, came to my school to speak and for the second time I heard the story of how Craig started the organization, but this time from a person who had been there since the beginning. Marc described his visits to impoverished countries and the impact on his life, telling us how he met a group of street kids in the slums of Bangkok. Because none could remember their birthdays, they saved money all year and had one birthday party for all of them.

I was completely enthralled. Marc was an amazing speaker, and what he said really hit home. (It didn’t hurt that he was cute, either.) Then he told us how we could make a difference.

Free the Children had set up campaigns that help children get education, medication and food. When our advisor, Ms. Spotswood, asked if we would like to get involved, we responded with a unanimous yes.

Our group set to work pursuing our goal of helping build a school by raising $6,000. It was an incredible feat, but if other children had done it, so could we. We made a float for our town’s Santa Claus parade where we collected over $200. For our next project we asked our fellow Catholic school students to donate five dollars during Lent.

I had been volunteering as a tutor at a grade school, but quit because I hadn’t found it interesting. After Marc Kielburger spoke, I began to volunteer again. It’s tough sometimes when the children don’t cooperate, but I think about all those children who can’t get an education and realize it’s all worth it.

Every child should get an education and Free the Children has helped me understand that. Dedicated to the rights of children, it has also helped me see that I can do something to help other children. I have the power to change the world and I’m going to use it. I think when the students at our school see what their money has done, they will realize they can make a difference, too.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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