By Elizabeth Suneby

If your kids are like most, it’s hard to get them fired up about going back to school.

Who wants to trade lazy morning breakfasts; days at the beach, pool and park; and evenings eating ice cream under the stars for the 7:00 a.m. wake-up, structured days sitting indoors at a desk and hours of nighttime homework? Not me.

Kids and grown-ups living in developed countries understandably take education for granted. But, try to get your children to imagine if they were never allowed to go to school. Never allowed to learn to read or write or calculate numbers. This is reality for 69 million school-age children around the world — more than the number of people living in the states of Texas and California combined and more than double the population of Canada.
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Julie White, 45, came to her current role as a specialist teacher at the Edward Everett Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts, with a background in community service. But her love for giving to her community — and to her fellow human beings — extends much further back.

“I’ve just always had it in my heart to give back and to make a positive change, ever since I was a kid myself,” she explains. “I’m just passing on what’s always been in me. I’m the dinosaur now,” she laughs. “The kids I work with are the little eggs.”

“The kids” Julie works with are the entire student body of Edward Everett Elementary School, a kindergarten to grade 5 school of about 300 children, located in the heart of Dorchester, Massachusetts.

As a specialist teacher, Julie’s job is to involve every child in at least one outreach or community service project throughout the course of the school year. “They all participate,” says Julie. “It empowers the kids to know that they have a project — and a deadline — and if they don’t finish, it’s going to affect people who are depending on them.”

Her voice warm — and filled with pride for the little ones she leads — it’s easy to understand how they respond to her. Julie encourages the children to come up with their own ideas for projects, or provides structured activities. One kindergarten class decided to raise money to purchase summer treats for children who live in a local shelter. “Pennies for Popsicles” was such a success, they now repeat the fundraiser every year.

She’s also implemented both the One Hen and The Good Garden programs offered by One Hen Inc., which offers activities for educators like Julie. And she’s watched — like a mother hen — as the children grew in compassion and self-esteem.

“It’s really empowering for kids to realize that it doesn’t take money to make a difference,” she says. “We pick up the trash on the lawns of our elderly neighbors, or do little potted plants for them in the spring. It all makes a difference.”

Julie’s work is all the more remarkable when you learn that 80 percent of the children in the school come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It’s been amazing to see how she cares for — and teaches — those kids,” says Sarah Harney, program coordinator at the St. Ambrose Family Shelter, where Julie and countless groups of children have contributed innumerable volunteer hours over the past decade. “She is a great asset to us. She shows the children the difference they can make; and they make a huge difference. But she also teaches them that if they should ever fall on hard times — l like some of the families at the shelter — there’s still hope. It’s not the end of the world.”

Whether it’s tension in the Middle East, civil war in Syria or tribal-based conflict in Africa, war is a sad reality of life for countless men, women and children around the globe. For many North Americans, news of such conflict touches us only indirectly — when we read the morning paper or watch the nightly news. But ours is a global village. And chances are that some of the children you interact with may overhear – or be involved in — discussions at home about war, because of close familial ties to those distant lands.

War is scary for kids. It’s also harmful. Little ones are highly susceptible to the devastating effects of violence, effects that can linger long after the violence ends.
The good news is, the 2012 Global Peace Index has found that the world became “slightly more peaceful” over the last year. The GPI ranks the nations of the world by their peacefulness and identifies some of the drivers of peace — like levels of democracy, education and material well-being. The Index is composed of 23 indicators, ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighboring countries and the level of respect for human rights.

World Vision has several reports exploring the issue of peace and conflict, from armed violence in East Africa, to the progress being made on the impact of small arms on the lives of children.

The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict includes recent news, data, reports and video clips, as well as information on what’s being done to help the little ones around the world who are often the primary victims of armed conflict.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
– Song lyrics by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson

When you live the privileged life of most North Americans, it’s easy to take clean water for granted. Thirsty? Take a sip from the water fountain or turn on the tap. Need to wash your hands? Walk to the nearest washroom. Garden looking dry? Simply turn on the hose.

But 894 million people around the world today are not so blessed. Most of them are forced to survive on only about 1.3 gallons of water a day — that’s less than it takes for a single flush on most modern, low-flush toilets. And those people don’t have the luxury of turning on a tap. Millions of them are forced to walk miles to fetch often filthy water — from stagnant ponds or puddles or water holes shared by animals — only to have to walk miles back home. In many impoverished communities, fetching and carrying water becomes a necessary, daily chore that keeps countless girls out of school and puts countless women at risk of wild animals, marauding gangs and rapists on the prowl.

Fortunately, there are caring individuals and organizations that are doing something to help remedy this problem. Ryan’s Well is an organization that began in the heart of one small boy.

Ryan Hreljac was in the first grade when he learned of the great need for clean and safe water in developing countries. With the support of friends, family and the community, Ryan raised enough money to build a well in Africa. In 1999, at the age of 7, Ryan’s first well was built at Angolo Primary School in northern Uganda. To this day, the well continues to serve the community there.

To date, the Ryan’s Well Foundation has helped build over 725 water projects and 916 latrines, bringing safe water and improved sanitation to more than 760,512 people.

It may seem like a drop in an 894 million–person bucket, but each one of those people who have been given access to clean water has been given a significant chance at building a better life.

To read the inspiring story about Ryan’s very first well, check out the CitizenKid Book Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together.

Stuart Clark has spent the past 35 years working on food issues in developing countries. He is the Senior Policy Advisor at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and Chair of the Trans-Atlantic NGO Food Aid Policy Dialogue, a consortium of European and North American NGOs dedicated to the reform of the international food aid regime. This interview was originally conducted for World Vision Canada.

Q: You wrote recently, “We have entered a new world for our food supply.” And you said we must start making changes so food doesn’t become “the new engine of global discontent.” Tell us what you mean.
A: I mean that we have gone from having predictable food surpluses pretty much all the time — a situation that began in the post–World War II period and lasted right up until the mid-part of the first decade of the 21st century — to the present, when the balance has started to tip toward unreliable surpluses and sometimes deficits.

Q: What’s caused this change?
A: It’s largely been driven by demand, chiefly as a result of the need for grains to make biofuels, corn to make ethanol and soybeans and canola to make biodiesel. And when our governments mandate that 10 percent of the gasoline that runs our cars consists of bio-fuels — that’s a huge, huge demand. The other factor has been the increasing global consumption of meat, most of which is being produced by grain-intensive methods; rather than pasture-fed meat, it’s meat that’s being raised on soybeans, corn, or in some cases, wheat.
On the supply side we’ve also had a tapering off of the growth of agricultural yields in general. Climate change, the problem of lack of sufficient water around the world and the fact that there’s not a lot of additional agricultural land to bring into production have all contributed to the tapering off of supply. The result of all this has been that market prices for food have become very volatile.

Q: If the problem is so complex, where do we begin to look for solutions?
A: The market probably needs a certain amount of regulation. And that’s where the right to food comes in. National governments must take steps to ensure their populations have access to food. That doesn’t mean they have to buy food for their people and give it to them. It does mean they ought to be very careful to not pass laws or enter into trade agreements and other things that will imperil the access of their populations to food.

Q: What can North Americans do to help ensure that people “at the bottom” have enough to eat?
A: It’s an important question to ask. Canadians consume upwards of 100 kilograms of meat products per person per year. That puts us at the top of the meat table. So just being careful about how meat is consumed is important.
It’s also important that the policies our governments put in place to turn food into fuel have some kind of regulator. When we had surpluses, the farmers were getting paid too little for their products and many were forced out of business. So the advent of bio-fuels in Canada was a pretty good news story for farmers. But we need to ensure that when prices go too high, we stop turning food into biofuel so that our cars aren’t depriving people in poorer nations from having access to adequate food.

“In purely quantitative terms, there is enough food available to feed the entire global population of 7 billion people.”
- World Food Programme

The above quotation is enough to give anyone pause for thought. If there is enough food in the world for everyone — then why are 925 million people still going hungry?

The answer isn’t a simple one, but striving to build a world where everyone has enough to eat touches on a concept known as “food security.”

Food security is said to exist when people have physical and economic access — at all times — to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and preferences for an active, healthy life.

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Nelson Mandela once observed, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The world must agree. Maybe that’s why — when the United Nations came together in 2000 to adopt the Millennium Development Goals — they listed achieving universal primary education by the year 2015 as their second goal. How’s the world doing? We’ve come a long way — but there’s still some distance to go, as these numbers (from UNESCO) attest.

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Ever heard of “ The Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland”? How about “The Republic of Molossia” or “Lizbekistan”?

No? If you’d like to, then the CitizenKid book How to Build Your Own Country is for you! (And given that it’s written for children ages 8 to 12, it’s also for the children in your life.) This comically illustrated hard cover offers a fun overview of micronations (such as the three listed above) and the people who founded them, and teaches kids — through lighthearted text — that starting your own country could be as easy as 1, 2, 3!

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“I do not know what your destiny will ever be, but this I do know … You will always have happiness if you seek and find: how to serve.”
– Dr. Albert Schweitzer, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952

When learning about big global issues like poverty, children’s rights or food security, it’s easy to lull ourselves into a sense of complacency thinking that experts and NGOs are taking care of the problems.

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David J. Smith, Author (This Child, Every Child, If the World Were a Village, If America Were a Village)

One spring, when I was just a boy of about 7 or 8, my family took a road trip. We lived in the Boston area at the time, but my parents decided we would visit Cincinnati — where my mother had been born and raised. It would be a two-day drive. I’ll never forget loading the car, climbing in and then feeling excitement — and trepidation — when my dad handed me a map and said, “OK. You can tell us how to get there.”

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