Kielburger speaks of the power of education to free the children

Thirty thousand children – one every two seconds – die of poverty or poverty-related diseases every day, and it is high time that the world addressed this catastrophe. That was the key message delivered to teachers and teacher candidates by Marc Kielburger, chief executive director of Free the Children, during the York Faculty of Education professional development conference, Dare to Dream: Imagine the Future, held on Nov. 17.

Left: Marc Kielburger

Free the Children is the world’s largest network of “children helping children through education” , and Kielburger was the keynote speaker during the Faculty’s one-day conference on global education held at York. More than 140 area teachers and teacher candidates from York’s Faculty of Education attended the event, which included workshops on homelessness, inner city high-school education, and the use of technology in promoting global awareness among students.

Kielburger, co-author of the best selling book, Me To We: Finding Meaning in a Material World, writes a weekly column for the Toronto Star with his brother, Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children, a child advocacy organization which has built more than 450 schools in developing countries throughout the world. The organization has received four Nobel Peace Prize nominations and has partnered with the United Nations, and American television host Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network. Its work has been endorsed by numerous world leaders including the Dalai Lama and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. 

Above: Kielburger, second from the left, with a group of teacher candidates and teachers at the York Faculty of Education professional development conference held on Nov. 17

Education is the key to combating child poverty, said Kielburger in his keynote address. In many parts of Africa, one of the main reasons that girls cannot attend school is that they must spend their day retrieving water for their families, he said. 

To address this problem, schools built by Free the Children supply water for kids to take home at the end of the school day. This innovation alone has made it possible for thousands of young people to become literate, said Kielburger, who highlighted that child hunger could be eliminated worldwide at a cost of $18 billion, less than Europeans and North Americans spend on ice cream and cosmetics annually.

Kielburger, the son of former teachers, recommended a variety of teaching strategies for raising students’ awareness of global issues. "They should not be sheltered, either at home or school, from the realities of poverty, hunger and violence in other children’s lives," he said. "Schools should promote volunteerism and teach ‘compassion’. Students should be encouraged to celebrate local heroes in their own communities for their acts of social responsibility."

Paul Axelrod, dean of York’s Faculty of Education, said that Kielburger’s presentation to the conference participants was “inspiring, as is the work of Free the Children. It changes lives, not only in the communities abroad in which it works, but among the student volunteers in Canada and elsewhere who work with the organization. It makes the daunting task of changing the world, seem possible.”