More than a hundred teenagers and adults celebrated the opening of the first Free the Children office in California, located at 481 Washington Ave., Friday in Palo Alto.
The crowd gathered from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Lucie Stern Community Center to hear founder Craig Kielburger speak about the organization and what youth can do to get involved. Kielburger said the mission is to free children in two ways: first, to free children in underdeveloped countries by giving them access to education; and second, to free children from the idea that they're too young to make a difference.
Free the Children helps communities in underdeveloped countries by providing clean water, health care, grants for alternative income projects and resources for schools. The organization has built 500 schools, providing primary education to more than 50,000 students.
Kielburger founded the organization in 1995 when he was 12-years-old after reading a newspaper article about a 4-year-old boy from Pakistan who was forced to weave carpets. The boy escaped at age 10 and told his story to the media, bringing attention to the problems of child labor in Pakistan. Kielburger told his classmates about the story and formed a group of young activists for children's rights.
"As a small group, we started giving talks in other schools dreaming up this idea of having children help other children," Kielburger said.
"It was this very idealistic, almost naive idea. ... We found youth in (K-12 schools) who responded to this message. Students want to get involved in helping children overseas. We try to bridge the gap and help students to become global citizens."
Now Free the Children has thousands of young people helping communities overseas. Volunteers build schools, dig wells, create health care centers or complete other projects to help the communities become sustainable and self sufficient.
The organization decided to open an office in Palo Alto because, "support from schools and families in Palo Alto has been tremendous," Kielburger said.
School principals, teachers and students have helped contribute to the organization by fundraising for projects or volunteering and building schools.
Ohlone Elementary Principal Susan Charles and teacher Bill Overton worked with students to raise $5,000 to build a well in Emorijoi village in Kenya. Charles and Overton went on an 18-day trip to Kenya with Free the Children to build the well and a school classroom.
Overton said he gained a sense of global responsibility from the trip. "I found kids that were thin, and drinking water with cholera in it, but they were happy," he said. "They loved school. It was everything to them. They loved their teachers. They weren't taking their education for granted."
Information about Free the Children is available at www.freethechildren.com.