Be The Change: Meeting Craig Kielburger & Making A Youth’s Dream Come True

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A couple weeks ago I had one of those awesome life moments. The kind that confirms your faith, hope and perseverance that you desperately clung to when times were tough.

When I moved to Toronto a couple years ago in an attempt to try and “Make it” and grow my career, I had a vision of working for the social enterprise Me to We and Free the Children. I was inspired by Craig Keilburger and what he and his friends had created in order to empower youth to change the world.

Here is a little background of how Craig because the inspiring person he is:

One morning as Craig flipped through the Toronto Star in search of the comics, he was struck by a story. A raw, but courageous story of a boy his age named Iqbal.

Iqbal Masih was born in South Asia and sold into slavery at the age of four. In his short life, he had spent six years chained to a carpet-weaving loom. Iqbal captured the world’s attention by speaking out for children’s rights.

Eventually, Iqbal’s wide media coverage caught the attention of those who wished to silence him. At 12, Iqbal lost his life defending the rights of children.

What Craig learned from Iqbal’s story was that the bravest voice can live in the smallest body.

Craig had to do something.

Craig gathered together a small group of his Grade 7 classmates from his Thornhill, Ontario, school and Free The Children was born.

Free the children from poverty. Free the children from exploitation. Free the children from the notion that they are powerless to effect change.

Those are the messages that sparked Craig’s passion, and continue to fuel the mission of the organization today. Every day the movement grows and every day more young people are free to achieve their fullest potential.

Today, Free The Children is an international charity and educational partner, with more than 2.3 million youth involved in our innovative education and development programs. Since its inception, Free The Children has worked in more than 45 countries. Free The Children currently works in eight developing countries with its Adopt A Village program. (Free the children, Bio)

Years later, after Craig and his brother Marc and traveled around the world more than 20 times, they questioned: How can we get beyond guilt and greed? How can we take the best business practices and infuse them with a world-changing spirit?

That was when Me to We was born.

Craig and Marc believe that consumers are powerful citizens because they vote everyday—instead of every few years—when they spend their money. What we purchase matters. We spend more on our lifestyles than we give to charity, and so those dollars need to have a greater impact.

That’s why, Me to We was created to help transform consumers into socially conscious world changers, one transaction at a time.

Me to We blends the best of business and charitable practices. Me to We redefines the bottom line. For us, and for tens of thousands of people who believe in social change, Me to We has quickly become a way of life. (Me to We, Bio)

I wanted more than anything to be a part of this organization, in any capacity. Everything they did embodied my core beliefs and passion. So I applied to both organizations over 15 times. With my diverse skills set I was able to see myself in various roles, and was willing to take a low paying position in order to focus on a cause that was close to my heart.

When one of the supervisors called me to invite me to an interview I nearly jumped through the phone and kissed her. This was it! My opportunity to work for a socially conscious social enterprise. Unfortunately, I did not get the job.

My time in Toronto was tough, as much as I loved living in the city. I loved the people and the diverse cultures, but I was constantly being put into scenarios where I was asked to fit myself into specific boxes of credentials.  I had worked too long and too hard to gain the experience and embrace the person I was, so dimming my light and apologising for my experience felt as if I was selling out. I had to believe there was something positive in store for me. Something better for myself than even I could possibly imagine.

So I wrote on my vision board, “I will meet Craig Keilburger and work with Me to We and Free the Children.” I always write on the bottom of my affirmations, “This or something better manifests for me for the highest good of all concerned.”

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During my interview in Grande Prairie for my current Youth Services Supervisor position, members of the city’s youth council asked, “What inspires you?” I looked at them and asked, “Have you ever heard of Craig Keilburger and Free The Children? What he has done for youth across the globe inspires me.”

Little did I know that two of the members of the Youth Council had started a small We Day called Mighty Peace Day, and four thousand children attended the event including Craig Keilburger.

I ended up getting being chosen for the position and it has been a dream come true. It feels as if I am being paid to be myself.

When the preparation for Mighty Peace Day began, the Youth Council and I were so excited as we worked alongside 75 other crowd pumpers whose job it was to raise the energy of the youth attending the event.

As we were preparing, one of the youths, Maria, grabbed my arm, squeezing it with excitement as she gestured to the other side of the auditorium and then announced, “Oh my God Cara, there he is, its Craig! I have wanted to meet him since I was ten years old!”

I couldn’t help but empathize with her passion because I had come prepared to get an interview with Craig no matter what it took.

As I was standing near the volunteer table where influential members of the community, educators, and  Free the Children leadership (or staff) were signed into the V.I.P room to enjoy a meet and greet, I began scheming a way to access the room.

I asked one of the volunteers, “How can I get a ticket into that room?”

She responded, “Sorry Cara, you have to be on the list, I can’t let you in.”

I pleaded, “Oh come on, you can get me in there I am an educator;” unfortunately, she couldn’t help me out.

Then, as usual, the Law of Attraction prevailed.  While standing in the entrance-way waiting for the students to arrive, a woman ran up to me and asked, “Cara, could you please go grab a ticket to the V.I.P room for a member of Free the Children who is waiting to get in?”

“Sure,” I responded. The new girl at the volunteer desk handed me the ticket without question, and as I approached the V.I.P room I saw Craig and two of his people standing outside.

“Hi there,” I greeted them, “Did someone from Free the Children need this ticket?”

“No, it’s okay, she got in,” Craig replied.

“Soooo, then this ticket is mine?” I laughed.

“I guess so!” Craig laughed along with me.

I extended my hand to introduce myself to Craig and told him about how I had applied to his organization over 15 times.

“Oh no!” he laughed putting his hands to his face as if it were somehow his fault.

“No, it’s actually perfect,” I told him, and continued to explain my story about my vision board and writing this or something better manifests for me now.

“The truth is Craig, if I had of gotten that position I would have been working in an office and the chances of me actually meeting you and having this kind of a conversation would have been slim. Now I work in a position that is more than I could ever imagine, and I get to directly work with Youth in a influential capacity.”

After our conversation Craig agreed to meet up with me later for an interview.

As I stood waiting, Maria came up to me to see what I was up to. When I told her I was waiting for Craig, I asked if I could get a quick interview with her about why meeting him was so important to her.

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Maria: It’s not only a huge honour because he has created so much change; changing everything kids and adults can do. It’s a big inspiration to be in the same presence as him because he truly is an inspiration.

Maria began talking to a friend as I continued to wait, and soon one of Craig’s people approached me.

“Cara are you still interested in interviewing Craig? He will be coming down here for fifteen minutes.”

“Yes, definitely,” and without turning around I extended my arm behind me to pull Maria away from the conversation with her friend and pulled her next to me. “You can tell Craig that me and my assistant, Maria, are ready to interview him whenever he is available.”

The look on Maria’s face was priceless; like a person who was just told she won the lottery, she was dumbfounded.

“Your assistant, eh?” The Free the Children representative questioned with a smile.

“Yep,” I responded without budging, “I couldn’t do it without her!”

As Craig entered the room and approached us, along with the other press, I could tell he was intrigued by Maria’s presence in the group he questioned her right away.

“Hi Maria,” he greeted her, “Who have you brought with you today?” gesturing to me standing next to her.

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Maria: This is Cara.

Craig: What does Cara do?

Maria: Cara works with the youth in the community as part of the Grande Prairie Youth Council. She supervises us, motivates us, and helps us to better ourselves and be better while getting the word out.

Craig: Wow that is a really awesome description. She should get that printed on her business card.

Me: I truthfully feel it is the other way around and they motivate me to do better and be better, but I will take the compliment (I laugh).

I began my interview, with Maria standing close by in awe.

Me: Craig you have influenced youth all over the world to Be The Change, but what does Being the Change mean to you?

Craig: We talk about an equation that is Spark + Gift = Better World.

It means finding a cause you care about and living it to make it better, every single day on that issue. So for kids it’s helping them find that spark, whether it’s poverty, violence, homophobia, racism, whatever it is, and match it with your gift. So maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s speaking, maybe it’s art, whatever it is, bringing it together with your spark, that’s how you be the change.

Me: If you could go back and talk to that twelve year old child who is reading the article on child labour, what advice would you share with him now as a mentor?

Craig: Best advice: I would have loved if someone had of told me when I was younger, you don’t have to wait to change the world. I heard all the time, “You will be a great leader of tomorrow!” or “Someday, when you are older, you’ll change things!”

There is this message that somehow children are adults in waiting, as opposed to being young is a great time to make an impact, today! Youth know better than any adult about issues and causes around bullying, or aboriginal issues with young people, mental health in school, or first generation immigrants issues happening in their community. As youth, you know more about what their needs are, and how you can support and empower them, and how we can make friendships and opportunities.

So there is a unique voice that is missing at the table when the voice of young people is not there. This myth of leaders of tomorrow we as a society need to change into leaders of today.

At the end of our interview Maria was glowing and stated with conviction “This was the best day of my life!”

In that moment I realized that as we get older our firsts in life become far and few in between. Being in the presence of one of Maria’s first moment’s meeting one of her inspirer’s, that person who helps her believe in the power she has in herself to create change in the world was the moment I realized my vision board and that what I wrote next to it had officially come true: This or something better. The smile on Maria’s face was my “Something better!”

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