Pakistani activist Iqbal Masih, who had escaped child slavery at age nine, was shot to death for speaking out against exploitation.
Moved by the 12-year-old boy’s bravery, Kielburger encouraged a group of his Grade 7 classmates and fellow Scouts campers to join him in keeping alive Iqbal’s mission for justice. The world’s largest network of “children helping children” was born.
Since then, more than one million young people in 45 countries have joined Free The Children, the social movement he founded at age 12, to help save youth from poverty, exploitation and the belief that they are powerless to make a difference.
The 29-year-old children’s rights activist from Thornhill, Ont., credits camp for helping him have the courage and leadership, just like Iqbal, to speak out against social injustices in his travels around the world. He was a Scouts Canada camper from about age five to 14.
“When I was 12 years old, I travelled with a chaperone through Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Nepal with nothing but my backpack and sleeping bag,” Kielburger says in an interview with Our Kids. “My parents said one of the only reasons they let me go was because they knew I had so much leadership experience as a Scout– the ability to rough it with nothing but a backpack, and the self-confidence I developed that in so many ways shaped who I am.”
Kielburger was so influenced by camp that today he is on Scouts Canada’s board of directors. He has even helped launch Me to We's Take Action Academies, social justice-themed summer camps focusing on leadership, team-building and volunteerism.
Camp ultimately taught him to care about the environment and others beyond his backyard. With a “me to we” outlook, campers helped clean up local parks and ravines, volunteered at retirement homes and raised funds for good causes.
“Because camp shaped our childhood, it shaped how we looked at the world,” says one of the youngest recipients of the Order of Canada.
With a desire to give back to the next generation, Kielburger is helping carry on Iqbal’s legacy and create a world where children are given “the same amazing opportunity to have great mentors, great friends and great life experiences” that he got at camp.