WE Charity, formerly known as Free The Children, is a worldwide development charity and youth empowerment movement founded in 1995 by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger. The organization focuses on young people, with programs in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. for service learning and active citizenship, and international development projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America focused on children and education. The organization runs programs in approximately 10,000 schools in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. for service learning and active citizenship, with the aim of empowering youth to become socially engaged.
The domestic youth empowerment work is funded by corporate sponsors and profits from the social enterprise, ME to WE. In 2013, Charity Intelligence Canada awarded Free The Children its highest four-star rating, along with an A for the organization's reporting of its "social results". The organization promotes a philosophy of socially conscious living, embodied in the phrase “Me to WE” – the title of a 2004 book by Craig and Marc Kielburger That idea of “we” has been reflected through the organization’s programs such as its WE Day events, launched in 2007, leading up to a updated branding of “WE Charity” from early 2015.
Free The Children was founded in 1995 by Craig Kielburger when he was 12 years old. Craig was reading through the Toronto Star newspaper before school one day when he came across an article about the murder of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy named Iqbal Masih, a former child factory worker, who had spoken out against child labour.
Soon after, Kielburger established Free The Children with a group of his 12-year-old classmates. The organization was formed to raise awareness in North America about child labour and to encourage other children to get involved in the issue.
One of the group’s first actions was to collect 3,000 signatures on a petition to the prime minister of India, calling for the release of imprisoned child labour activist Kailash Satyarthi, who went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. The petition was sent in a shoe box wrapped in brown paper. On his eventual release, Satyarthi said, “It was one of the most powerful action taken on my behalf, and for me, definitely the most memorable.”
Shortly afterward, Kielburger spoke at the convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, where union representatives pledged $150,000 for a children’s rehabilitation centre in India. The Bal Ashram centre was built by Satyarthi.
In December 1995, Kielburger embarked on an eight-week tour of South Asia to meet child labourers and hear their stories first-hand. It was on that trip that Kielburger had a meeting with then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in which Kielburger convinced Chretien to take a public stand against child slavery.
In 1999, at the age of 16, Craig Kielburger wrote Free the Children, a book detailing his trip to South Asia four years earlier and the founding of his charity. The book was re-released in 2007 with Me to We Books.
In 2008, EY and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, presented the Social Entrepreneur Of The Year award in Canada to the Kielburgers for their work with Free The Children.
As stated on the charity's website, its goals are to "empower young people to remove barriers that prevent them from being active local and global citizens."
During Craig Kielburger's seven-week trip to South Asia to visit child labourers, Judy Jackson filmed the experience and turned it into a documentary that would later be known as "It Takes a Child". This documentary shows first hand what Mr. Kielburger saw during his trip. The documentary showcases issue of child labor, and looks at "Free The Children" an organization Kielburger and friends created.
Free The Children implements its development projects through its "WE Villages" program, formerly known as "Adopt a Village", in rural China, Nicaragua, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Haiti, India, and Ecuador. The program is made up of five pillars: education, clean water and sanitation, health, opportunity, and food. The fifth pillar, food, was announced by Free The Children in 2012. Among its other projects, WE Villages builds schools and water wells, provides medical treatment and helps create opportunity programs for people in developing communities. These projects are designed to address the root causes of poverty and remove the barriers to children’s education in the developing world.
In 2008, Free The Children celebrated the construction of its 1000th school. In 2010, the organization updated its website to show that it has now built 650 schools and school rooms which educate 55,000 children a day.
Today, Free The Children has built more than 650 schools and school rooms in developing regions worldwide, and it has established offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, London (England), and Palo Alto (California).
Free The Children works with schools and families in Canada, the United States, and the U.K. "to educate, engage ah its overarching program called WE Schools, a year-long service-learning program launched by WE Day. The program includes a team of Youth Programming Coordinators who mentor school and community youth groups; curriculum resources for elementary, middle, and high school classrooms; online resources; service campaigns; action kits; professional development sessions for teachers and motivational speaking tours and workshops.
A third party evaluation found that youth participants in Free The Children programs are more interested and successful in school, more likely to vote, better working in teams, better role models to peers and siblings, better prepared for college and careers, and more confident in their ability to graduate from high school.
The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative and Free The Children together run the "WE Stand Together" campaign. Paul Martin, former prime minister of Canada, wrote in the Globe & Mail that the campaign “generates dialogue for students to share with their family and friends about the history, cultures and traditions of aboriginal Canada.” More than 400 schools across Canada were involved in 2012, with the goal of emphasizing Canadian aboriginal history, such as the life Tecumseh in classrooms in Canada.
Free The Children holds an annual series of an events called WE Day. A stadium-sized event, WE Day brings together tens of thousands of youth in an inspirational event as part of the yearlong educational initiative of WE Schools. WE Day features notable speakers, such as Al Gore, Elie Wiesel, and performers, such as Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson and Nelly Furtado. Attended by thousands of students, tickets are not purchased, but instead are given to students who earn their tickets through service in a local or a global cause. The first WE Day was staged in Toronto in October 2007. It has expanded into 13 other cities, including London, Chicago, Seattle, San Jose.
Free The Children’s funding comes from young people. In classrooms and youth groups across North America and the UK, young people fundraise for WE Villages through independent fundraising campaigns or Free The Children’s organized campaigns. A portion of Free The Children’s funding also comes from independent adult supporters, grants and corporate groups. A final portion of the organization’s funding comes from the social enterprise Me to We, a business with a social mission: to donate half of its net profits to Free The Children[not in citation given] and to provide consumers with socially-conscious products and experiences. The ME to WE website lists its cash and in-kind contributions to Free The Children at over $5 million since 2009.[not in citation given] The Board of Directors, who drive much of the corporate funding, consists of dozens of industry leaders. The Board Chairwoman is Michelle Douglas. According to Free The Children’s website, its administration costs are 10 per cent of total revenues and on average, 90% of donations support its programming.
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