Today presents a new opportunity to look back and reflect on a journey that started 25 years ago and to acknowledge the incredible supporters, without whom none of this would have happened.
When I’m asked to describe ‘when it all began’, I think of April 19, 1995. Back then I liked to begin my day with a bowl of cereal accompanied by Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, and the Wizard of Id. But that morning, I never got to the comics because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the front page. A small boy was looking out at me defiantly, his arm thrust in the air and his fist clenched. The headline announced: “Battled child labor, boy, 12, murdered.” It was his age that struck me. I skimmed the paper every day in search of the comics, which means I’d ignored plenty of other distressing headlines. But this kid was my age. The article said Iqbal had been sold into bonded labour, chained to a carpet loom, and shot down in the street after he escaped his captors.
I knew I had to take action, and with the support of my parents, teacher, and a group of 11 classmates who stepped up, we set out to make a difference. That one pivotal event transformed my life, and subsequently the lives of so many others, and led to the launch of WE Charity Canada, which for 25 years has worked to empower ordinary people, especially young people, to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems.
I’m proud of the impacts we achieved together. Through our WE Villages five-pillar development model, one million people have been able to lift themselves out of poverty through sustainable development. At home, we empowered hundreds of thousands of young people and their teachers to take action through WE Schools innovative service-learning programs that enabled them to discover their own cause, write their own journey of impact, and make daily choices that bettered the world.
Youth in Canada have gone from being the least engaged demographic to the most engaged over the past two decades, and we’re extremely proud to have played a part by inspiring and catalyzing young people. A passion for changing the world isn’t defined by age—when you take action on the causes you care about, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.
We made sure to celebrate those accomplishments through WE Day, an annual series of global events across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom that brought together thousands of youth and educators in honour of doing good. Featuring renowned speakers, activists and performers along with real-world stories of change, these events served as a catalyst that kickstarted even more action to help better the world.
Throughout our journey, teachers have been our stalwart partners. To build their capacity in the classroom and empower their students, we launched WE Teachers, a program that provides free resources and training, from curriculum to professional development events.
Abroad, our WE Villages unique development program employs a holistic five-pillar model that works in tandem with community members and ensures access to food, water, education, health care, and opportunity. We have spent the past year working with our amazing community partners to complete development projects and ensuring sustainability for years to come. As intended, they will soon have the full local capacity to lead and manage these going forward. Our executive team and WCF board leadership are now working closely with them to ensure a smooth transition.
Seeing the impact created by WE Charity over the past 25 years has been one of my greatest joys in life. So many changemakers have joined the WE Movement to discover their cause and take meaningful actions that have literally changed their communities and the communities of others at home and around the world.
I am profoundly grateful for all those who made this extraordinary journey possible. And it is with excitement that we now hand our legacy to the WE Charity Foundation team to ensure its continuation for generations to come.
Craig Kielburger has been defending children’s rights since he was 12 years old. Inspired by the story of 12-year-old Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy murdered for speaking out against child labour, Craig Kielburger created Free the Children to defend the rights of children all over the world. That organization eventually became WE Charity, which Craig Kielburger and his brother Marc Kielburger led for 25 years. At the age of 25, Craig received the Nelson Mandela Freedom Medal and was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2007. He has been the recipient of honours that include the Reebok Human Rights Award and the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship.