Child rights activist Craig Kielburger asked Calgary students if they want to live in a racist world.

PHOTO | BENJAMIN FRANCIS

Child rights activist Craig Kielburger asked Calgary students if they want to live in a racist world.

October 31, 2011
SARA FRANCIS
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

CALGARY - The morning child rights activist Craig Kielburger was to speak here, a person driving a van ran over a two-year-old in China; afterward 18 people passed by without stopping to help.

So Kielburger opened his Oct. 18 talk using that story as an example of the evils of bystander apathy, and how easy it is to point fingers at China for its wrongdoings, when here we ignore injustice too.

"Whether we're in China, the streets of New York or with our First Nations population in Canada, how do we push past our spheres of compassion?" asked Kielburger.

The 28-year-old Catholic urged students to become passionate about changing the world through community service and a heightened awareness of local and global issues.

"Do we really live in a world where human life matters less depending on our nationality or ethnicity or the country where we're born? It's a very personal, a very difficult question, but it's a question each one of us needs to answer."

That was a question Kielburger answered at the age of 12 when he woke up one morning to read a news headline that changed his life: "Battled Child Labour, Boy, 12, Murdered." Those six words sparked a battle cry within Kielburger's heart to help fight injustice.

He went to school and told his class the story of a boy in India who was slain for speaking out against child labour. He asked his peers for their help to continue the slain boy's fight for human rights.

Eleven students raised their hands to form a small group that would eventually become Free The Children, the largest international organization of children helping children to free them from poverty and exploitation.

Free The Children has built more than 650 schools internationally, bringing water, basic health care and sanitation to the communities where the schools are built.

Springbank High School sponsored the Ontario native to give the motivational talk at St. Michael's Church and celebrate the completion of a five-year commitment to sponsor a school and in turn a community.

Teacher Jill Milner worked at Springbank for the past five years and saw the project come to fruition.

"I find that really motivating that there is this greater network of people to help facilitate young people to do good in the world," said Milner, who now works at Clearwater Academy Catholic private school in Calgary.

NO STANCE

After Kielburger's presentation, he stayed to answer questions. Catholic prolife activists Ruth Lobo and Francisco Gomez asked Kielburger to give his stance on the right to life of unborn children.

"We were asking for clarification on Craig's personal stance and as founder of the organization, it's important to know where he stands as a mentor for so many young people," said Lobo.

Recently, Kielburger and his brother Marc wrote a column in the Toronto Star criticizing the federal government for wanting to cut funding to International Planned Parenthood, an organization that promotes abortions.

"We've never taken a stance on (abortion)," said Kielburger, adding Free The Children is an apolitical organization. He also said Free The Children has never partnered with Planned Parenthood.

As for his own stance on abortion, Kielburger declined to provide a public comment.

Marc and I, "we both attend Mass. We're both Catholic. We've just personally chosen not to take a stance on that," said Kielburger.