Monday, June 8, 2009

he's got me beat, and he's only 12

i recently interviewed bilaal rajan for metro canada. he's a little boy who lives a comfortable life in ontario but has a ghandi-like desire to help the less fortunate. when he was four - four! - he saw media images of the earthquake in gujarat, india. i saw them, too, but limited my response to shaking my head in sorrow for the 20,000 killed.

bilaal went selling oranges door to door to raise money.

“It truly wasn’t fair that these people, just because they lived in different places, should have to suffer such tragedy,” he told me. He saw they needed someone to help them. “I came back to myself here in Canada and I realized that that person could be me.”

he's since raised millions for aids orphans, built a school in tanzania, and helped those whose lives were smashed by hurricanes in haiti and tsunamis in south-east asia. he's like a little superman: if there's trouble, bilaal is on his way to help.

his latest fundraiser - and the reason i was interviewing him - was to talk barefoot for a week. totally barefoot! he was raising awareness (and money) for kids who don't have a choice but to go shoeless all the time. he explains it on this youtube clip and watch a bit of his bare feet in action here.

he's got a shelf full of awards, has written a book and, i think, made a documentary.

i called him at home on a weekday - his mom answered and asked if i could call him at 430pm, when he would be home from school. strange life - to come home from school to do an interview with a national newspaper.

he was calm and confident, fielding my questions like a pro. he mostly stuck to script - i got the impression it was his script - but was thoughtful when i asked what he thought of everyone making such a big deal about his age. i mean yes, it is odd for a 4 year old or 12 year old to care so much about others, but really: it's odd for any one to care so much for others.

“So many adults think that kids do not want to get involved, do not want to help out, and it’s absolutely not true. The truth is we really do, it’s just they don’t know how,” he told me after pondering it for a moment. “Yes, I may be young, but I truly think that no matter how young or old you are, you’re able to do anything. Changing the world doesn’t have to be huge. It can be helping someone, because that someone is part of the world.”

i liked that last bit. he also made the point that if everyone dropped a piece of litter on the ground, there would be a huge mess. the same holds true in reverse - if everyone picked up one piece of litter, the joint would be sparkling.

career-wise, he doesn't want to be a professional good person, as he'd rather keep money out of it. "As a career, I’d like to be an astronaut and a neurosurgeon," he told me.

seems about right.


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