Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Love Connects Us: A Program on Living in Unitarian Universalist Covenant for Grades 4-5

Craig Keilburger and Free the Children

Adapted by Lynn Ungar from a story by Jerrilyn Jacobs on the My Hero project website and information on the Free the Children website.

You could say it all started with a little thing. Craig Keilburger watched his older brother Marc get excited about a science project when Marc was 12 years old. Marc's project was more than science; it was also service. Craig was impressed when his brother collected signatures for a petition to ban products harmful to the environment. Craig says: "I remember watching him and thinking how amazing it was [that] he's changing the world...and I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

This little bit of inspiration went a long way. When Craig himself was 12, he read an article about another 12-year-old boy—this one in Pakistan. Iqbal Masih was murdered for calling the world's attention to the terrible conditions endured by children working in the carpet-making industry. "I saw him as a hero for speaking out about child labor," says Kielburger. "I suddenly understood that a young person can make a difference."

Craig decided to educate himself about human rights. He became so passionate about it that his parents—reluctantly—allowed him to leave his home in Canada to travel through South Asia with a human rights worker. There Craig saw, first-hand, the personal horrors behind child labor issues. He came home to Canada determined to find a way to help the children he had met.

Craig managed to get six of his friends excited about how kids could help other kids across the world, and the seven of them founded a group called Kids Can Free the Children. Craig and his friends worked to make it possible for children to get education instead of jobs. Free the Children created Friendship Schools, a program that connected schools in North America, Europe, and other wealthier, industrialized countries with schools in developing countries. More and more kids joined in on the effort, raising money with bake sales and car washes and learning about human rights and the needs of other kids around the world.

Craig Keilburger founded Free the Children in 1995. Since then, the organization has accomplished a lot:

  • Built more than 500 schools in developing countries, providing education to more than 50,000 children every day
  • Established Youth in Action groups in more than 1,000 schools in Canada and the United States, engaging more than 20,000 young people
  • Distributed more than 207,500 school and health kits to children in need
  • Shipped medical supplies worth more than $15 million and built health care centers to help improve the lives of more than 512,500
  • Equipped 23,500 women to be economically self-sufficient
  • Improved access to clean water and sanitation for 138,500 people

One boy who wanted to help the world turned into two brothers who believed they could make a difference. One brother who wanted to make life better for child laborers on the other side of the world got six friends involved. Now the organization they started has tens of thousands of kids and adults making change around the world.

"Of all the well-known people I've met, the person who inspired me the most would be Mother Teresa," says Craig Kielburger. "She had this incredible power about her...because she had such a big heart. I asked her how she kept her hope in the face of so much poverty and she said 'We must always realize that we can do no great things, only small things with great love.'

"You have the spirit of Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela inside you. No matter what your gifts, no matter what your talents, kids can help change the world." Craig Keilburger's life is proof that his words are true.