Kielburger urges young people to pitch in and make a difference


Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children and Me to We, spoke to an audience of over 700 in support of Oomama, an organization that raises funds and awareness for those with HIV/AIDS. (Photography provided by Oomama)


The night began with the story of Siphiwe Hlophe, a Swazi woman who in 1999 won a scholarship to study in the U.K. only to lose it, and most everything else in her life, after being diagnosed with HIV.

On Oct 9, a crowd of more than 750 heard Craig Kielburger, from Free the Children, speak in support of Oomama, an Oakville-based grassroots organization that has “grandmas” raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS caregivers in Africa.

For over an hour Kielburger spoke about Oomama’s mission and the importance of cross-generational participation, including his experience with his own organizations, Free The Children and Me to We.

“The single greatest challenge is that we’re raising a generation of passive bystanders,” Kielburger told the audience.

The crowd listened and responded, often forcing Kielburger to pause for the applause.

“We thought it would be great for the community to hear what he has to say.” said Wendy Merson, chair of the Oomama event, adding that getting Kielburger had proved challenging.

“We tried to get him in April, but ended up choosing October,” Merson said. “It was hard to set up a date because he travels a lot.”


For sponsor Lisa Helsdon, who has been working with Oomama for the last three years, Kielburger was well worth the wait.

“What I really like about it is it’s a young guy that reaches out to the kids. I think we need a lot more of that in our communities and society,” she said, remembering how Kielburger was just a young teen when he began Free the Children. “He’s just done an amazing job and I think he’s a real role model and should be to all these young people.”


Kielburger paused often as the audience would break out into applause. (Photography provided by Oomama)

For Kielburger, now 31, the number of young people involved is an inspiration.

“When I started it was 12 years old and I was incredibly uncool to try and make a difference,” he said. “Today we see so many young people who are here because they want to make a difference. It’s not only cool, more importantly it’s possible for these young people to make a difference. And they believe it and they know it.”

Oomama is an organization for grandmothers and Kielburger told a story of how students from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School in Oakville held a “bring your grandma to school day.”

“It’s something that, whether you are a grandmother, whether you are a granddaughter or grandson, or any age, is awesome to get involved with,” he said.

For Helsdon, getting kids involved was the biggest hope for the event which saw youth make up almost half the audience.

“I think we can, hopefully, raise a generation of kids that understand their responsibility, especially those kids that have the ability,” she said.

“The responsibility to give back to their communities and give back to their immediate communities at large, but also in the world at large.”

To find out more about each group, follow the links: Oomama, Free the Children, Me to We