Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 16, 2008
Kielburger challenges West to move from Me to We
Canada's high level of health care hard to find in developing nations
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"It was the most remarkable birthday party I'd ever been to."
Kielburger, a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes scholar, is the co-author of the bestselling Take Action! series and recently released Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World, which calls people of all ages to live the Me to We philosophy of volunteerism, service to others and social involvement.
With the determination to protect the environment, Kielburger, 29, first became socially involved when he was 13. He went on to serve as a parliamentary page in the House of Commons, work with AIDS patients in the slums of Bangkok, and volunteer in Kenya, where he helped local women establish a fair trade cooperative.
Kielburger told part of his remarkable story at the meeting, using shocking slides to illustrate it.
While working as a House of Common page at age 18 one parliamentarian asked him, "Marc, what kind of legacy do you want to leave?" and told him about an amazing charity that worked in the slums of Thailand.
"In North America we spend $17 billion on dog food and cat food, which is more money than we spend on foreign aid."
He took on the challenge and when he arrived there he came face to face with poverty for the first time. He showed slides featuring a sprawling sea of dilapidated houses, open sewers and garbage heaps.
Shortly after his arrival in the Klong Toey slum, Kielburger was ushered to the AIDS ward of a hospice where the nurses thought he was a doctor, or at least a medical student. Finally he was given a four-hour medical school training - taking care of dying AIDS patients. He broke down in the face of human misery and tragedy and decided to leave.
But as he was packing his bags, a shoeless young boy in a yellow T-shirt and blue shorts who spoke perfect English, said, "Marc, you can't leave. You have to stay for our birthday party." The boy knew English because he had worked as a child prostitute.
Kielburger learned that street children who didn't know their parents, let alone their ages or birth dates, pooled their meagre resources and held one massive birthday party every year. Kielburger cancelled his plans to return to Canada and stayed for the party.
"Literally hundreds of millions of people will never have access to health care."
"It was the most remarkable birthday party I'd ever been to," he told the meeting. "This birthday party didn't have a lots of presents, it didn't have a lot of games but it really had a lot of love and compassion and people who cared."
After the party he postponed his trip back to Canada indefinitely and lived in the slums of Klong Toey for almost a year, teaching English to school children and logging many more heart-wrenching days in the AIDS ward, watching many people die.
"This was a remarkable experience because I got to understand what service is all about and what living a life in faith is really all about," he said.
Kielburger returned home and went to Harvard University. But as he told the meeting, the slums of Thailand changed his life. "I learned more about compassion, about leadership and faith from those street kids in the slums of Thailand than I did from any of my professors at Harvard."
Kielburger completed a degree in international relations at Harvard and, after winning a Rhodes scholarship, he went on to complete a law degree at Oxford with an emphasis on human rights law.
Convinced of the importance of leadership development in empowering youth, Kielburger co-founded Leaders Today in 1999. This organization empowers young people through leadership education, providing them with the inspiration and tools to affect positive social change. The organization delivers one-of-a-kind local and international training experiences, reaching more than 350,000 youth every year.
"Today 32,000 children die everyday of poverty or poverty-related diseases while we spend a trillion dollars on the military; that's more than $90 million an hour," he said at the Caritas meeting. "In North America we spend $17 billion on dog food and cat food, which is more money than we spend on foreign aid."
Kielburger said it would take $15 billion for every child in the world to go to school and $17 billion to end child malnutrition in the world. "Europeans will spend $11 billion this year eating ice cream but Stephen Lewis says we only need $10 billon to eliminate AIDS in Africa."
Kielburger said we are losing the war on poverty in Africa, where in some parts life expectancy is 36 to 38 years because of the lack of health care.
"Literally hundreds of millions of people will never have access to health care. Health care is such an important human right that we need to protect it at all costs."
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