Kielburger says students can make a difference on campus

Students — you are more powerful than you think.

That’s the message brought to campus Feb. 15 by Craig Kielburger, a Canadian activist whose social justice efforts put him in the spotlight when he was just 12 years old.

“People think that you have to be uber rich, or uber powerful or uber famous,” he said. “I don’t believe it at all.”

As a pre-teen, Kielburger came across a news article about a Pakistani boy whose impoverished family sold him to a carpet factory when he was four years old. When he was nine, the boy escaped and spoke out against child labour.

At 12, the boy was assassinated for his work as a political activist.

The story infuriated Kielburger, who called upon his classmates to help find ways to put an end to such injustice.

Sixteen years later and Kielburger, now 28, is head of Free the Children, an organization for social change that oversees more than one million young people working toward education and development in 45 countries around the world.

“So many people think charity is just writing a cheque,” he said before the crowded great hall of the Rozsa Centre. “But social change is a lifestyle.”

In a recent conversation with South African human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kielburger shared that reading the news had at times left him feeling disheartened.

Tutu replied, “College boy, what are they teaching you kids in schools these days? The newspaper is God’s to-do list, delivered to your front door every morning.”

Kielburger said young people consistently play an important role in political movements, from those protesting in Tiananmen Square to those in Egypt today.

“Every generation faces a challenge set before us,” he said. “Students today are still called to stand for what we know is right.”

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