When Craig Kielburger was 12 years old, he read an article in a newspaper that inspired him to learn more about the issues surrounding child slave labour.
When I was about the same age, my mom started updating me fairly regularly about the activities of two young brothers named Marc and Craig. They were from Toronto and were traveling the world and making a real difference in the lives of children wherever they went. And they were my age!
Eventually I started paying attention to what was going on with Craig and Marc Kielburger and their organization, Free the Children, on my own.
Recently, someone was asking me about what direction I saw my journalism work taking me in the future and whether I would consider doing something insane like covering news in war-torn areas. I explained that although it wouldn't be my first choice to head off into a war zone, I do think that is one of the most important jobs a journalist can have. Telling the rest of the world about what is happening so they might be inspired to work towards peace.
I was oh so lovingly assured by my pessimistic conversation buddy that there is no way I'm ever going to change anything anyway, so why bother?
Instead of letting my idealism and optimism dissolve into some serious pouting and "accidental" shin-kicking, I was able to calmly hold up my shining example: the Kielburgers. Two young men who are no different than the rest of us, but who have made the decision to look beyond themselves and make a real effort to change things for the better.
My pessimistic friend couldn't argue with that.
The past 8 or so months have taught me many things about working for a newspaper. Of late, I've been feeling especially overworked and underpaid. And from what I understand, it isn't likely to get dramatically better. It can be discouraging to say the least. Not to mention the fact that the general population has no concept of what goes into putting together a newspaper and are, as a rule, remarkably unforgiving of the malicious "mistakes" we evil reporters like to throw into our work. You know, for funsies.
However just when I was beginning to wonder if I had maybe started down an entirely futile path with this writing thing, enter Marc Kielburger.
He was in town to speak at one of the local high schools, and as I was still pulling double duty as both reporter and editor, I thought it only fair to assign myself to cover the event.
Despite the fact that he has probably made the same speech to zillions of students before, Kielburger's passion for human rights and the work that he does just radiated off him. There are few people who can inspire an auditorium sardine-packed with teenagers into silence. He is one of them.
Before the assembly I caught up with him briefly and he graciously answered my questions for the paper with a smile and gave me his card in case I came up with any more later and I believe I held myself together at the seams sufficiently to pass myself off as something other than the bubbling, gushing fangirl I was suppressing. Of course after my job was over I figured it was totally appropriate to get a picture taken with him and let my fangirl out.
Aside from providing me with an excellent Christmas card for my mom, Kielbuger reminded me of what it is that keeps me going when I wonder if I might be better suited to some kind of career involving money, where my mistakes aren't splashed permanently across newspaper pages. It is the hope that someday, something I write might grab ahold of someone like Craig Kielburger, and set in motion some much-needed change.
A lofty aspiration, I know, but why have any other kind?