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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003


    The Keilburger Brothers Take on Global Dictatorship

    Nancy Knickerbocker

    At the age of 18, Marc Keilburger, a good kid from a middle class family in suburban Toronto, made the wrenching transition from being a Parliamentary Page in Ottawa to being an AIDS ward worker in the slums of Bangkok. On the first night, a man died in his arms.

    “I was 18 years old, and I was absolutely devastated. I was screaming for help, I was crying, I was angry at the world,” said Keilburger, who was recently in Vancouver to speak to teacher activists at the BC Teachers’ Federation’s annual summer conference.

    He said his first instinct was to flee to the comforts of Canada. But his drive to do something to help the local children, most of whom were abused in Thailand’s notorious sex trade industry, kept him there for almost a year. “It was the most spiritually challenging and emotionally rewarding time of my life,” he said. Memories of his experience in Thailand continue to inspire Marc’s work with his brother, Craig, as they strive to free kids from exploitive child labour by bringing education to their towns and villages.

    Children chained to carpet looms, children working in the fields, mines, factories and the streets — all these children share the dream of having the opportunity to go to school, Keilburger said. Through Kids Can Free the Children, the organization Craig founded when he was only 12, the brothers have harnessed the enthusiasm of more than 100,000 youth volunteers around the world. They have built about 300 primary schools in more than 35 countries, providing education to 30,000 boys and girls.

    Closer to home, Keilburger was critical of the Liberals’ proposed Bill 37, which would allow employers to hire BC children aged 12 to 15 with nothing more than a note from their parents. It contains no prohibitions against children working during school hours or even night shifts, and no special regulations protecting child workers’ safety on the job.

    “Certain components of Bill 37 allow for what constitutes child labour under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Keilburger, a Rhodes scholar who recently completed his degree in international law at Oxford. The BCTF is actively opposing this legislation, which may come back before the House in the fall session.

    For more information on Bill 37, and how you can help stop it, please go to: www.bctf.ca

    The brothers’ latest book, Taking Action, is a practical guide for adolescent activists, with great information on how to research social issues, make presentations, give interviews, raise funds, run meetings, write grant proposals, etc. Guides for younger children and older teens are upcoming later this fall.

    For more information on the Keilburger brothers and their organizations, please visit: www.freethechildren.org

    Nancy Knickerbocker works in communications for the BCTF.


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