From gender inequality and lack of education in developing worlds to gun control issues in North America, children today are inundated with images of violence and pain. Instead of fearing, or worse, taking an apathetic stance towards these acts and challenges, we need to encourage and engage youth in topical discussions on how to take tangible, compassionate actions that lead to solutions and, therefore, a better future.
My brother Craig and I started our journey of creating Free the Children after Craig read the story of Iqbal Masih, a former child slave in Pakistan who was shot and killed for speaking out against child labour. Our organization really took shape when Craig’s seventh grade teacher allowed Craig a few minutes of valuable teaching time to speak to his fellow classmates about this tragic incident. Several discussions of “What can we do now?” began forming
In October, Craig spoke at a school in Andover, Massachusetts, near Boston and had the chance to chat with the students following his speech. These students were shocked by the news of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban because of her belief that girls should have the right to an education, which had happened only the day before. The Andover students asked a lot of questions, but above all they wanted to know how they could help right this act so Malala’s courage would not be in vain.
We hear literally hundreds and thousands of stories like this throughout the year and encourage dialogue after We Days, in classrooms and among peers about how discussions can turn into compassionate actions. We believe this generation will do great things; they will right injustices and improve the quality of life for people around the world because we’re seeing it happen.
Collectively, whether it’s after the horrific rape of a woman in India or the brutal killings of school children in Newtown, Connecticut, we can’t shy away from these issues; we need to set an example for the next generation that apathy is not the answer and motivate them to do better.
So now, as we come together at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the world’s premier stage for ground-breaking discussions on the betterment of our global humanity, we need to discuss the future – how to better engage youth to become active global citizens.
This generation is largely seeking outlets to improve global challenges. Change can come from devastation when youth are empowered to act with courage, conviction and compassion.
Author: Marc Kielburger is a social entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and gifted orator. He is Co-Founder of Free The Children, an international charity and educational partner; Co-Founder of Me to We, an innovative social enterprise; and Co-Founder of the international youth empowerment event, We Day. He is a recipient of nine honorary doctorates and degrees, the Order of Canada and was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2007.
Photo Credit: Tony Hauser – Free the Children