I have, for a long long time, been an admirer and fan of those Keilburger boys. I love their hearts for the underdogs of the world. Their story makes me wonder if and hope that there are many many stories of kids who are indignant about the messes they see around them; kids who step out to clean up messes that they didn’t make; kids whose stories don’t make headlines and whose names don’t become associated with one of the largest fundraising organizations in the world, but kids who are out there on the front lines just making a difference within their sphere of influence and, God bless their hearts, who don’t notice that they aren’t being noticed.
The Keilburgers are wonderful inspirations. I have been using their Free the Children materials for many many years in my classroom, telling their stories, showing their videos, using them to inspire my students to learn more about their world and to get out there, believing, like I do, that their contributions matter. I love that they act when they see the need. Someone’s hungry? Let’s get ’em something to eat. Someone’s oppressed? Let’s build ’em a school. Someone’s poor? Let’s provide them with means. Can’t get a much more straightforward philosophy than that!
But really, the Keilburger boys are just two people on the planet. However, they are two people who have moved tens of thousands of kids to action, and two people who have moved millions of dollars to produce new results – just two people. And their story is not likely to repeat itself on such a grand scale very often in a generation. Or in several generations. Do I believe that they can eliminate poverty? Nope. Do I think that injustice will cease to be in the near future? *head shakes* Can I say with confidence that they will ensure that no child goes hungry ever again? I can not.
I am, maybe, too cynical. I believe that it takes more – a lot more – than idealism and activism to eliminate injustice and ‘wrongness’ from this planet. I believe there is no perfect solution this side of Eternal Glory. I cannot for a moment put my faith in any system humanity, meagre as we are in spirit, has to offer. I don’t think we have it in us to carry out pure goodness to its furthest extent. We are too tainted, too soured by our own human natures for me to put my faith in us. In the long term, I believe in my heart that poverty has always been with us, and always will. That people as a whole cannot rise above our own self-serving interests. That politics and the religion of political correctness will go on and on, as they always have, sullying our intentions, using words to justify evil, drawing our attention away from our consciences and causing us to wander off the path of goodness.
I also believe it is a sin to not try. I believe it is wrong to sit by and watch people go hungry or cold or sick or poor or oppressed and not do a single thing about it. It is immature and lazy to argue that because I cannot see an immediate solution to the problem I am absolved of any responsibility to address it! I cannot condone the excuse that there’s no point in trying because it won’t ultimately solve the universal ills that have plagued us for millenia. Nonsense. We each need to get up off our sorry asses (pardon my language!) and make ourselves useful on this planet! What a waste of human potential and mortal flesh we are when we sit and shake our miserable heads, tsk-tsking, and doing naught.
I teach teenagers. And heaven knows I am often frustrated by a too too prevalent apathy. Pride in one’s work, self-discipline to put off gratification in order to achieve a long-term goal, intrinsic motivation to succeed, the perseverence and determination to tackle challenges, the ethics required to do their own work: all very often lacking. Alas. These certainly look like deficits. I ought to know. I’m the one who is discouraged by a scant pile of poorly done assignments at the end of the day. I’m the one who puts hours into a project to find students are nodding off in the back row. I’m the one who has to write and rewrite and rewrite again units of study because students can’t be bothered to respond to their alarms clocks in order to get to school. I’m the one explaining to students at the end of the term why I am not willing to give them credit for a course they never took. Or never took seriously. Yes, I know all about how unconcerned about making their own legitimate way in the world teenagers appear to be.
Please look again.
Witness Wednesday’s WeDay-ers meeting, over the lunch hour, in my classroom. My fellow teacher, nearly as dewy as the teens, and I sit watching our zombie kids come in the room. Kids whose heavy lids can barely stay open long enough to reveal their glazed eyeballs prior to 10:30 am; whose heads flop loosely onto tattered binders during the slightest pause in the lesson; whose limbs seem to spasm when their shoulders twitch up to indicate they have no idea what I might be asking during any point of any lesson. Zombies, all of them. They wander into the room with brains half alive with caffeine and practically fall over themselves trying to negotiate an aisle of desks.
My partner and I remind them of the family whose house burned down a week-ish ago and report how their efforts to get donations from stores (three of them came after school to ask how to write a letter, how to ask for donations – they wrote out what they’d say, practised how they’d approach store owners, and rehearsed their lines) resulted in generous gift cards from Superstore, Giant Tiger and a third store who has asked to remain anonymous! We tell them that their work in creating fliers to distribute to homes up and down the streets surrounding our school resulted in one family donating mattresses for the ousted family. We point out that their work meant that this family is less stressed, and more equipped to move forward.
At this point, a few zombie heads begin to rise, and few zombie spines begin to straighten, and a few zombie smiles start to emerge.
And then we remind the zombie-crowd that each of them had attended an interview before being selected to go to WeDay, and that each of them had expressed an interest in changing their world in one way or another. We challenged them to come up with one thing they could do to make a difference: to do some investigative research, to commit to making a small presentation next week. I pulled up a new page on my Smartboard, in my WeDay file folder, and started writing names down in a column – who is going to commit to what?
Little zombie minds went to work. Little zombie commitments started coming forward:
– “What about the SPCA? Can we fundraise for their new building?” asks one little zombie-girl. Another responds, “Oh! I know about that! They have money for that. They need money to do emergency surgeries!” And we encourage little zombie #1 to make a few calls down to the SPCA and see what they suggest we do for them.
– “What about RBC’s Blue Water Project?” asks one. I counter, “What about it?” And this little zombie pulls out his smartphone and starts right there doing a little research into the issue, uncovering a few facts which leads him to change his angle: “I think we’d be better off selling the Rafiki chains that Free the Children are promoting to dig water wells.” Awesome. He agrees to come up with a plan to implement right here at our school.
– “Old Folks’ Homes need volunteers.” “Oh?” says my partner, “Do they?” “Yes!” And she commits to going to a few this week to see how she and her friends might help.
One by one and two by two, our little group of zombies came to life. Each one or two agreeing to do something this week to investigate a cause, some small thing they can do in this world to make it a better place.
The list grew.
So that by the time the bell rang it was lengthy and full of meaty stuff. And even then, after the bell rang, they kept coming like some kind of heavenly resurrection! Four particularly shy and quiet little zombies sidled over to whisper freshly birthed ideas about volunteering at the Children’s Haven, or starting a Pay-It-Forward campaign.
I had suspected that behind those heavy eye-lids are keen minds – minds that have nearly succumbed to the idea that they cannot make a difference, minds convinced that they ought to conserve their energies for investments that will bring greater returns. I do understand. I get why it is that teenagers lose their faith.
Teenagers have a sort of sixth sense – an uncanny ability to discern crap. And I have seen over and over again how, when they are presented with something real, something significant, something that will right a wrong and bring justice to the world, their eyes are drawn open and a brightness begins to grow there. I lovelovelove that they are just waiting to be awakened. No one on this planet can unleash energy like a teenager whose indignation has been aroused! And no one comes to life faster than a teenage-zombie who has begun to believe. All the dead bodies in my classes suddenly are suddenly quite animated and out for blood if they catch the faintest scent of injustice! One or two little determined lights, glowing in what appear to be decaying little souls, are out to change the world!
Two Kielburger boys set out a few decades ago to right a wrong and have somehow aroused one or two or twenty teenage zombies in my school – these ones are waking up to change their communities and who knows how that is going to change the whole warp of the world? May nothing ever be the same again after the Zombie Apocalypse. Amen and amen.