What started as a small group of students has evolved into a growing and powerful movement to eradicate poverty and child labor—WE. From domestic programming that supports students and educators in making a difference to a sustainable international development model, WE makes doing good, doable. And today, we are a community of millions of passionate youth and individuals working together to create profound and lasting change.
One morning over breakfast, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger was flipping through the newspaper looking for the comics when he was stopped short by a story: Iqbal Masih, a 12-year-old former child slave in Pakistan, had been murdered because he spoke up for human rights.
Craig was 12. Iqbal was 12. In that moment, Craig was struck by a single and profound connection—except for the happenstance of birth, he could have been Iqbal—and he needed to do something.
But what? He was only one person, and a boy at that. What possible difference could he make in the lives of child slaves a world away?
What was needed: a collective voice. So Craig convinced a handful of Grade 7 classmates that together they could make an impact, and WE Charity was born.
Along with his older brother, Marc, Craig and his team set out on a bold mission: to free children and their families from poverty and exploitation.
But they soon discovered that freeing children from slavery was not enough—the families of freed children continued to struggle to support themselves and many freed children had to return to work.
Craig and Marc expanded their focus.
Recognizing that there is no single solution to end poverty, Craig and Marc created Free The Children’s WE Villages, an innovative, holistic approach to development that provides access to five key pillars—education, water, health, food, and opportunity —and empowers a community to lift itself out of poverty.
Together, these five pillars achieve greater impact than each pillar could achieve on its own. A school that also delivers food and clean water programs ensures that girls can go to class, instead of walking long distances to fetch dirty water for their families. A medical clinic plus alternative income programs ensures community health care that families can afford.
Twenty-four years later, WE Charity is an international charity committed to delivering a sustainable development model that empowers people to transform themselves, their families, their communities and the world. To learn more about our story, visit craigkielburger.com.
Moments from our journey from freeing children from slavery to launching WE Villages holistic development model.