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Relentlessly Optimistic – Community Service and Free the Children

Posted by Renata Bule Jan 1, 2013 , , , ,

With the Spring semester’s theme of community service coming up, it is important for all of SWSG, but especially for mentors facilitating the projects, to be reminded of the impact that can be made by a small group.

In an International Health class, I learned about social health injustices around the world, and was very often overwhelmed and felt as though there was very little I could do to help. I was taught about these large, international organizations that were doing such great work in other countries, but I never felt like I could do something as large and important as what they were doing since I’m just one person. I wondered how big social problems must seem to the girls we work with,  if I was feeling ineffective. Then, when my class was discussing children’s rights, we learned about the organization Free the Children, which is an international organization that was started by  12 year old Craig Kielburger.

Free the Children is an “international charity and educational partner” and “believes in a world where all young people are free to achieve their fullest potential as agents of change.” Craig Kielburger was simply reading a newspaper one morning when he was a kid, and found an article about a boy from South Asia, who had been a child slave in a carpet-weaving loom, and was killed for speaking out about children’s rights abuses.  Moved by this story, Craig gathered a few of his classmates and they decided that they too could show the courage of that boy and stand up and defend children’s rights. Since then, Free the Children has grown into an global movement that has engaged 1.7 million youth in 45 different countries, and has started an international movement dedicated to “freeing children from poverty, from exploitation, from the notion that they are powerless to effect change.”

Craig Kielburger receiving an award for his work with Free the Children (www.freethechildren.com)

Craig Kielburger receiving an award for his work with Free the Children

Free the Children shows other organizations, adults, and most importantly, youth, that any one group can make a change and start a movement. During their annual We Day event, Free the Children celebrates global youth service with a day of youth-centered fun, and highlights some of the most unique and creative ways that youth have made changes. For example, a group of students from Maine held a “Rock-A-Thon”, during which they rocked in rocking chairs and raised money to start building a school.

Annual We Day celebration (www.freethechildren.com)

Annual We Day celebration (www.freethechildren.com)

Exploring the website of We Day and Free the Children, I saw stories of water treatment plants being installed, entire schools being built, and stories of children getting to go to those schools every day as a direct results of children helping children. These stories remind us that even the smallest group of 12-year-old children can be the catalysts for change. As a mentor, I realized just how important it was to get rid that mentality of feeling like I couldn’t make a difference just because I am young and only 1 person and promote a sense of “relentless optimism” (one of the core values of Free the Children) in our community. If we are to foster strong girls, we must teach them not to become discouraged by how big a problem might be, but to believe in the power of one person’s dedication to change.

Renata Bule is an undergrad Public Health student at Simmons College, a mentor with SWSG at the Dever Elementary School, and the Spring Program Intern for Boston’s office. In her free time, she often video chats with her family (and dog!) in St. Louis, Missouri. Renata loves mentoring with SWSG because of the relationships that she forms with the entire SWSG community, from the girls she works with, to her co-mentors, to the Boston Staff!  

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