Youth should stand up for children’s rights

Acountry with a young population, the Sultanate is an ideal location to focus on children taking up initiatives that support various causes.
This was said by Craig Kielburger, co-founder of the ‘WE Organisation’ and ‘Free the Children’, which has over the years uplifted more than a million people from poverty.
The message he wants to convey to the youth of Oman is, “be leaders of today and not tomorrow”.
“It is fascinating to see this country which has gone through transformation in such a short time, but what is even more impressive is that such a high percentage of the population is of young people,” said the best-selling author who has written 12 books.
How can young people take up the initiative? This is what Craig, who started social work at a young age of 12 to fight against child labour around the world, had to say about children finding the causes they care about, “It was difficult for me to go to another land to experience the problems that children faced. We have to make it easier for this generation.”
He says there are many causes that need attention today, whether it is poverty or environment. The issue he has been passionate about is ending child labour.
“We need young people like in Oman, Canada or other nations to stand up for children’s rights around the world and advocate to see whether children all over the world have their rights fulfilled. We take about 5,000 youth with us on ‘service trips’, called the ‘Me to We’ trips. It is travelling with a purpose. The organisation is called ‘WE’ because together we can make a change.”
A lot of times it is an experience that changes a person’s world. “The question is very simple — what is the kind of children we want to raise in this world? There was a global study in 42 countries that asked parents to finish the sentence, ‘I will be a successful parent if my child were…’, in which the words such as wealthy, capable, powerful, efficient, authority, etc came last. Words that came first were loyal, caring, forgiving, helpful, responsible, honest, etc.”
The initiative called ‘WE’ grew to become an organisation. Now millions of children have come forward to become involved in service work. A little over four million youths volunteer with the organisation to take action and support children around the world.
They work to build schools around the world, and provide clean water and medical help for millions of people. They work in remote locations and ‘risk countries’ protecting children.
It was a story of child slavery that attracted Craig’s attention that brought about the initiative which at first had twelve 12-year-olds. And 23 years later, a whole generation of youth continues to make a difference.
When Craig met Nelson Mandela, the South African leader told him some of the best lessons he learnt were during his childhood days. “He shared the lessons of leading his sheep and goats as a child from behind and not the front to make sure they walked where they wanted to go first. He said the greatest lessons we learn are when we are children. These lessons shape how we look at the rest of our life and world. I believe every young person must learn the lessons of compassion.”
The WE Foundation has programmes in 15,000 schools in which students volunteer as part of their school work and curriculum. Some of the programmes and courses are learnt by helping the world. For example, students learn computer coding and apply it for non-profit organisations or learn biology by testing the water quality in the local community.
“Millions of students make a difference in the world by working through schools. Just as they learn reading, writing and arithmetic, students learn about compassion, service and active citizenship,” Craig explained.