In September 2006 and again in 2007, OWL discussed an organization called Free the Children in the pages of the magazine. We received great feedback about the articles, but none greater than a letter we received earlier this year. It was from a former OWL reader named Erica Howes (pictured above).
Read on to find out how reading about Free the Children changed Erica’s life — and how it eventually led her to South America to help build a school.
One Article, One Spark, One Change
By Erica Howes
The ripple effect is when one small act leads to great change. For me, OWL magazine created a ripple that caused a great change in my life. When I was 13 years old, I read an article in OWL about an organization called Free the Children. It was founded by a 12-year-old boy named Craig Kielburger to raise awareness of child labour. Fifteen years later, it has now built 650 schools in developing countries and has become the largest network of children helping children in the world. And it all began with one boy and his dream to change the world.
The article was so inspiring. Something about it ignited a spark in me. That year I started a Free the Children group at my school and we raised over $3,000 for Sri Lanka.
Four years later, I am now 17 and belong to various social justice groups, hope to pursue a career in international development, and recently had the experience of a lifetime — traveling on a summer volunteer trip to Ecuador, South America, to help build a school.
I traveled with Me to We, a social enterprise partnered with Free the Children. We worked in two rural communities — San Miguel and Llullin, Totoras. We were complete strangers to these people there yet were welcomed with open arms.
Some of the families we worked with were living on less than $2 a day. Think about it: for us, $2 means a can of pop. Nearly 40 percent of Ecuadorians live below the poverty line. With an education, children have a chance of getting a good job and hope for a better future. The school we helped to build will allow about 250 kids to have an education.
While building, children would come and help us mix cement or paint tiles, and seeing the kids made us want to work harder. Although the children’s hands were plastered with dirt, their teeth yellow and bodies’ small from malnutrition, we never saw one without a bright smile on his or her face. We had lots of fun playing soccer with a can or catch with a pine cone and it was easy to forget their poor living conditions. As happy as they are, they deserve a better life. The first thing one young girl named Maria asked me was what my father’s name was. At first I thought this was a strange question, but realized family and community is what they value more than anything. They live such simple yet beautiful lives, it’s inspiring.
You may be wondering, “What can I do? I’m only one person. How can I make a difference?” Remember that Free the Children began with a 12-year-old boy and his dream to change the world. Remember that one small act can create great change.
The ripple effect is what changed my life. The article in OWL Magazine ignited the spark that launched me into helping others. I believe that one person can make a difference and influence others to create change. It is the ripple effect that changes the world.
If you’re inspired by Erica’s story, click here to find out more about Free the Children and the organization’s upcoming multi-city event, We Day.
Don’t forget to visit OWL’s World Watch website to learn more about global issues and what Canadians like you are doing to help.