I asked myself what Marc would do.
As brothers, we've never been rivals. We are too far apart in age to feel any sibling jealousy. And, as corny as it sounds, we've always been there for each other. When I was younger, I watched in awe as Marc seemed to excel effortlessly in everything—school, public speaking, rugby, and tennis. But what set Marc apart was his belief that he could make a difference.
When Marc was thirteen, he turned a passion for environmental issues into a one-boy campaign. For an eighth-grade science project, he tested the harmful effects of brand-name household cleaners on the water system. Next he used lemons, vinegar, and baking soda to create environmentally friendly alternatives that did the job just as well, if not better.
Marc seemed to be unstoppable. He gave speeches, founded an environmental club, created petitions, and collected thousands of signatures. As a result, he became the youngest person in our province to receive the Ontario Citizenship Award.
A younger brother could have no better role model. I knew that young people could have the power to make a difference when it comes to issues they care about. Why not me?
Riding the bus to school, I would uncrumple the newspaper article and look at Iqbal's picture—he was wearing a bright red vest, his hand in the air. One day, I asked my teacher if I could speak to the class. Although I was generally outgoing, public speaking was definitely not my favorite activity. I can still remember how nervous I felt standing up at the front of my classroom and how quiet everyone became as I shared what I knew about Iqbal and the plight of other child laborers. I passed out copies of the newspaper article and shared the alarming statistics I had found. I wasn't sure what would happen when I asked for volunteers to help me fight for children's rights.
Eleven hands shot up, and Free The Children was born.
As I jotted down the names of volunteers, I still didn't know the next step. But as we started to dig up information, things became a lot clearer.
We began researching the issue, and soon after we were out giving speeches. We began writing petitions and held a community garage sale fund-raiser. Before long, Free The Children chapters were popping up in other schools. In a few short months, my family's home had literally become a campaign headquarters. Phones rang with news of protest marches led by children. Fax machines churned out shocking statistics on child labor in Brazil, India, Nigeria. The mail brought envelopes from human rights organizations all over the world offering photographs of children released from bonded labor.
Then we learned that Kailash Satyarthi, a leader in the fight against child bonded labor, had been detained. We wrote to the prime minister of India and demanded he be set free. We collected three thousand signatures on a petition and mailed it to New Delhi in a carefully wrapped shoe box. A year later, a freed Kailash came to North America to speak. He called our shoe box "one of the most powerful actions taken on my behalf."
We were making a difference.
Then in September 1995, just as eighth grade was about to begin for me, my mother took me aside. As Free The Children continued to grow, our house had been overrun by youth volunteers, kids were sleeping on couches and floors, and the phone rang at all hours. "This can't go on," she told me. "We have to live as a family. We have to get back to having a normal life."
But how could I give up when I was only getting started?
My parents had instilled in me the belief that goals come with challenges. "Go for it!" they always told me. "The only failure in life is not trying." That's what I thought I was doing, but I guess even they were not prepared for what Marc and I would do with the lessons they had taught us.
I asked for time to think.