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Free the children: kids raising dollars for kids.

It was 1995. A young boy picked up a newspaper, searching for the comics and stumbled onto the headline, "Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered." Curious, he read on. He learned that the young victim, Iqbal Masih of Pakistan, was sold into child labor by his indebted parents. He learned that the boy escaped, and after some time began to speak out against child labor. He then learned that the boy was murdered, not for escaping, but for standing up for the rights of children.

"Age does not impact the kind of social change we are capable of," said the boy, Craig Kielburger, now 24. Kielburger said that he spoke out that day; standing in front of his seventh-grade class, article in hand, and asking his peers, "Who will help me?"

What started that spring day with a dozen seventh-graders has grown into the international nonprofit Free The Children (FTC), the world's largest network of children helping children through education. And as founder and chair, Kielburger is its leader.

A fourth-year student at the University of Toronto's Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, he said it is FTC's mandate that young people are engaged in all aspects of the organization. According to Kielburger, 65 percent of donations are from involved youth, with just 7 percent of every dollar going towards administration. FTC offers a two-year internship to recent university graduates, and the average age in the office is 24. "We do have retired teachers, an amazing accountant and some generous adult volunteers, but the spirit of the staff is youthful," said Kielburger.

FTC has engaged more than 1 million youth through its leadership programs and Youth in Action (YA) groups, based mainly in elementary and middle schools. Kielburger and company also founded Leaders Today, a sister nonprofit dedicated to teaching youth tangible skills, including public speaking, writing and researching.

FTC has garnered the support of school boards across North America, and partnered with National Bank Financial, Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network and the United Nations. FTC received three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Internationally, with the help of the more than 1,000 YA groups, FTC has built more than 450 schools in 16 countries; delivered 202,500 school and health kits; implemented alternative income projects to benefit more than 22,500 women; shipped $11 million (USD) worth of medical supplies to 45 countries; and provided 132,000 people with access to clean water and improved sanitation.

To learn more about child labor, at 13 the Toronto native set off for India and Thailand. "I needed to see it firsthand." Kielburger also met with Canada's then-prime minister, Jean Chretien, to discuss the issue of trade practices, particularly imported goods made by child laborers.

The media played a significant role in publicizing FTC, but participating youth are its biggest champions. "I have been fortunate enough to have spent time with amazing individuals such as Mother Theresa and former United States President Bill Clinton, but to this day our organization is helping millions of children around the world because of the dedication of young people here in North America."

Kielburger noted a Toronto daycare center that recently raised $12,000 for FTC, and Monarch Park Collegiate in Toronto that raised more than $32,000 in medical supplies for tsunami relief. "Youth are the heart and soul of the organization."
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Title Annotation:international
Author:Nobles, Marla E.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Jan 15, 2007
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