The Leaders of Today
Young? Yes. Inexperienced? Most likely. Energetic? Of course. Willing to take risks and to make a difference? Most definitely. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, but how much are we capable of now? For centuries, youth have been shunned: go to school, do chores, and speak only when spoken to. The world is missing out when youth are not given opportunities and respect. I have seen firsthand the power of youth at work, and it is amazing. I believe that not only are we the leaders of tomorrow, but many of us are also seizing the opportunity to make a difference today.
In May of 2002 I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations International Children’s Conference on the Environment in British Columbia. I saw the amazing feats of young children from around the world, children who persevered through every type of obstacle to improve the quality of life for those around them. Ryan Hreljac’s story in particular captured my attention. At school, when he was just six years old, Ryan heard of the desperate plight of millions living in Africa without water. Even at his young age, he knew this was not right; however, unlike most of us, he did something about the problem.
What Ryan decided was clear: he would raise the $70 necessary to build a well in an African village. It took him just four months to reach his goal, and he has not stopped since. The Ryan’s Well Foundation has supported over 230 water and sanitation projects and raised over $1.5 million for his cause. All this by the age of fifteen! The world’s problems might seem impossible to solve, but Ryan is holding up his end, and much more.
The story of Kimmie Weeks is also an amazing inspiration for me. Kimmie Weeks was born in the early 80’s in Liberia, a country in West Africa that has struggled for years with civil war. When Kimmie was just nine years old, his family was forced from its home and into refugee camps. He became deathly ill – so ill that he was stacked upon a pile of dead bodies from the camp. In nothing short of a miracle, he recovered from his illness.
At that point, he dedicated his life to working for the rights of children involved in war. When he was sixteen, Kimmie negotiated a peace agreement between warring factions that freed over 30,000 child soldiers from the war. Since then he has created an organization call Youth Action International, which works for children’s rights.
Although the direction our country is currently heading scares me, stories such as those of Kimmie and Ryan give me hope for a bright future. We are no longer just the leaders of tomorrow. We are becoming the leaders of today.
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