Youth can lead today rather than tomorrow

By  Lisa Petsche
  • March 31, 2009
{mosimage}Last year I wrote about my eldest daughter’s life-changing school trip to the Dominican Republic to build houses in an impoverished mountain village. She vowed it would be the first of many such endeavours.

That experience led to her involvement with Free the Children , a charitable organization involving “a network of children helping children through education.”

Founded in 1995 by Craig Kielburger, a then 12-year-old living in suburban Toronto, FTC’s goals are to “free children from poverty and exploitation and free young people from the notion that they are powerless to effect positive change in the world.”

Based on the premise that lack of access to education is at the root of child poverty, FTC not only builds schools in underdeveloped areas, but also delivers school and health kits to students, implements sanitation and clean water projects, provides health care centres and assists parents with alternative income projects so their children don’t have to work. As well, it establishes rehabilitation centres for children who have been enslaved and exploited.

Through her high school, my daughter has had the opportunity to attend empowerment and leadership conferences sponsored by FTC and has been working with a group to raise funds for construction of a school. According to FTC’s web site, 65 per cent of donations are raised by youth.

While I was somewhat familiar with FTC, I didn’t know, until my daughter informed me, about its partner volunteer and leadership program, Me to We ( Among the opportunities it provides are international service and training experiences. My daughter applied for the Ecuador Volunteer and Leadership Trip and was accepted for this summer, June 28-July 15.

The trip has several components: community development, including building a school; leadership training; issues education, including indigenous rights and environmental sustainability; cultural education, involving immersion in local communities; and wilderness experiences that foster an appreciation for Ecuador’s biodiversity.

While the experience will undoubtedly be priceless, it involves a significant amount of money. The total cost is about $4,500, which covers travel expenses, meals and accommodation, cooking and guide staff, security, curriculum materials and training, facilitation and co-ordination by qualified staff and a donation to the community in which they’ll be working.

When my daughter signed on last fall, the economy was not as bad and the American dollar not as high as now. Needless to say, financing her trip is proving to be more of a challenge than we anticipated.

Me to We encourages participants to seek sponsors to help raise the necessary funds. And so my daughter has been contacting community organizations and businesses to ask for their support. To date, though, the response has been disappointing. It doesn’t help that she can’t entice potential sponsors with the promise of a tax receipt, since Me to We is a social enterprise, not a charity.

My daughter — who’s about to enter university, another costly undertaking — feels a strong calling to this kind of grassroots, international service, though, and so she (with family help) will persist with various fund-raising efforts and trust that the Lord will provide.

I must say I’m saddened that we hear much more in the mass media about youth who are troubled — constituting a minority of their generation — than about those who are helping to make the world a better place. In recent days alone, for example, my local newspaper has carried front page headlines about a prolific 14-year-old car thief and the beating of a city bus passenger by two drunken teenage girls.

We need to spread the word about youth empowerment and outreach initiatives, such as those organized by Free the Children, which to date has involved more than one million youth in innovative education and development programs in 45 countries. That includes building more than 500 schools around the globe.

What I like about FTC is that it strategically and concretely offers hope for a better future to children (and their families) living in conditions no human being should have to live in. And it inspires and equips young people to become leaders today, capitalizing on their energy, enthusiasm and fresh perspective. Why make them wait until tomorrow?

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