Inspiration Or exploitation?
Free the Children: Living up to the name
Word of mouth may travel rapidly, but actions often have a greater impact. For Free the Children, a non-profit organization founded by Craig Kielburger, this mantra rings true. The organization has built its legacy around events that they host both domestically and internationally on an annual basis. For Ganesha Thirumurthi and thousands of Canadian children each year, these events have become an inspiration.
Thirumurthi discovered Free the Children “through another student, doing something like Vow of Silence or Halloween for Hunger. And then going to We Day.” We Day is an annual event held in Waterloo region and across the country. It is the flagship event for Free the Children. But as Thirumurthi mentions, it is one of many.
The Vow of Silence, now known as We Are Silent, is held annually as an awareness day for those without a voice, in which students do not speak for an entire day.
Meanwhile, Halloween for Hunger, now known as We Scare Hunger, is held on Halloween and consists of the collection of canned goods for the local food bank. These are both representations of the vast domestic spectre of Free the Children.
As for international initiatives, Free the Children have partnered with electronics giant Research in Motion to introduce a program called RIM Build a Village. RIM Build a Village is an awards program that gives 50 students an opportunity to visit Free the Children communities in either Kenya or India.
Thirumurthi learned about this program from peers who had previously taken part. “They told me about it,” said Thirumurthi. “So I got the idea there. I checked it out, learned a bit more, and then decided to apply.”
RIM Build a Village also gave Thirumurthi a chance to connect with his roots. “I have Indian heritage. So I could have picked India or Kenya but having never gone to India I felt it was somewhere I really wanted to go to. I wanted to learn about their culture and their ways.”
Building classrooms and latrines was only part of the experience the program offered. The human interaction portion of the trip was eye-opening. The differences between everyday life in India and the living conditions back home in Waterloo were black and white.
“The things we take from granted, you know. Just knowing about the world,” explains Thirumurthi. “And you ask them questions about the rest of India, or the rest of the world, and they’re really not aware that there’s so much more going on around them. They’re very isolated.”
Returning to Kitchener-Waterloo after his trip to India, Thirumurthi was inspired to get involved in ways that he usually wouldn’t have around his school and community.
“It sparked a whole bunch of things. I spoke at We Day, which I probably wouldn’t have spoken at before. I’m also speaking to some RIM employees about my trip, at mini We Day, I joined youth council and have been volunteering in a bunch of initiatives.”
As for We Day, an event Thirumurthi spoke at this month, he considers the fact that the local event is crucial to Free the Children’s success in KW. It is an event that he deems to have a very positive impact.
“It goes from the excitement of the bands to the real situations that people are in, the speakers who are really intense about what they are saying. It really impacts a lot of kids.”
Through his recent experiences with Free the Children, Thirumurthi has seen the immense positives of both the domestic and international landscape of Free the Children. His story, and those of others involved, consistently exhibit the fact that Free the Children is living up to its name.