Kid Philanthropists : The New Age Messiahs
It is a little distressing to know that today’s social conditioning privileges children to flaunt their entitlement. The helicopter parenting, haut monde schooling system and scores of other places designed to progress the children to adulthood are not helping them, but creating the self-seeking narcissistic personality type disorder. However, some parents are doing an incredible job at teaching their children to think beyond their own needs and privileged entitlements. Hence, they are connecting their children to philanthropy, the act of raising funds and mobilizing resources for others. It is deemed necessary that starting charitable activities inculcate a sense of citizenship – in terms of personal engagement, participation in collective school activities, and understanding a wider sense of social responsibility.
The schools must help children realize that you do not have to be rich or attain their adulthood to be philanthropists; they just need to remain innocent and must care. Philanthropy apparently appears to be a tall order to achieve but in practice, it doesn’t take a lot to embody. We all are aware of the fact that kids can do amazing things, hence, charity is always well within their bounds.
Children are naturally empathetic at this tender age, the formative period of their lives. They are effortlessly fluid thinkers and born optimists. They are also aware of situations where life has its formidable challenges. When we imagine what philanthropy should be, we actually see that children are the most natural at acting out of empathy, fairness, and humility. This “better way” the social systems build in the field of philanthropy, is the way of children.
Thanks giving, a harvest festival and national holiday in America, and Easter are terrible times to go hungry. An empathizing Adam Claggett has more than done his part to ensure impecunious families in the Illinois Valley do not starve. Since the tender age of 9, he has been arranging food for the hungry. It began with 88 pounds of food that crammed the family car destined to be in the hands of indigent people. Since then, Claggett held scores of food drives and stockpiled and gave away more than 12 tons of food to the local pantry, as well as thousands of dollars in cash handouts. Diagnosed at age 10 with pediatric cancer, Malcom Sutherland-Foggio from Morristown in New Jersey immediately began raising funds and speaking out about the disease. One year later, he founded the Make Some Noise: Cure Kids Cancer Foundation, which now has chapters around the country. The foundation has since raised more than $1 million and continues to raise awareness with a traveling quilt that is filled with the names and faces of children who have been victims of cancer.
Almost a decade back, longtime friends Paige Blake and Katie Easterly in Walnut Creek, California, founded What’s Mine is Yours, a charity founded to gather and deliver gently used clothes to children in foster care. It rapidly became the talk of the town, and now a phenomenon in the space of foster-care facilities.
Vivienne Harr from San Francisco started her charitable movement with a lemonade stand, which she gradually ramped it into an empire. At the tender age of 8, she came across the story of two Nepali boys of her age who had been enslaved. Learning slavery did not end with Abraham Lincoln, she began the organization ‘’lemonade stand’’ with noble goal of ending child slavery. The riveting story went viral, and 173 days later she had raised a massive sum amounting 100,000 US dollars. That phenomenally grew into a bottled lemonade business (Make a Stand Lemonade), which was followed by a featured TEDx talk, the youngest person ever to give a TED talk. Soon she was propped up by two venture capitalists, including Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, both supported her Make a Stand mobile app and philanthropic crowdfunding service.
After Vivienne crowd funded $101,320, her Stand Lemon-aid is now traded in stores across America and proceeds benefit leading anti-slavery organizations. Over 200 million users, Twitter chose Vivienne to ring the bell at their IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, because company executives believe: “Vivienne represents what one person can do.” Emmy award-winning Stillmotion Pictures, produced an eye-grabbing documentary about Vivienne’s success story that aired in theaters across North America. At the age of nine, Vivienne co-authored her own children’s book and her story has generated over two billion media impressions. At the age of 10, Town & Country recognized Vivienne as one of “America’s 50 Most Influential Philanthropists.” Entrepreneur voted her one of “15 female entrepreneurs to watch in 2015.” The New York Times, Bloomberg TV, The BBC World News, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, The New York Daily News, The Huffington Post, FOX, MSNBC, Yahoo News, Oprah Magazine, Time, Parenting, Real Simple—and media outlets across the country and around the world—have covered Vivienne’s story. Vivienne has spoken at Google, Twitter, Square, Linkedin, Paypal, Disney, Mashable, The United Nations, and Lead 2015 with President Bill Clinton. She appeared on stage at MIT with is Holiness the Dalai Lama to moderate a global conversation about compassion.
There are many other inspiring stories such as of Olivia Bouler. When oil spill from the BP Deep Horizon well began washing up near her grandparents’ home on the shores of the Gulf coastline, Bouler shot a letter across to the National Audubon Society and described herself as “11 years old and willing to help.” Within a year, her public-spirited offer had gone viral and she amassed $200,000 by selling her paintings of birds. Bouler, who describes the American artist and naturalist John James Audubon as one of her paladin-like heroes, followed that up with a visit to Washington, D.C., to lay out the plight of the birds to representatives and publishing a book of her drawings, a portion of which went to Audubon, also a devout ornithologist.
Another household name in kid philanthropy is Jordan Somer from New York. His enchantment with pageants began when she was 7 years old. At a tender age of 12, she volunteered at the Special Olympics. And in 2007, at the age of her teenage, she found a way to combine both, creating the Miss Amazing pageant for girls and women with physical and mental disabilities. The event has made rapid progress into a national event, with pageants organized in some 28 American states.
There are also Indian stories of kid philanthropists. Some of these stories surfaced during pandemic as lives were disrupted, and the school-going children were among the most vulnerable. The most affected were the children of migrant laborers and domestic helpers. Like other privileged children these children did not have access to online classes due to lack of smartphones and laptops. The twin brothers Garv Arora and Gavish Arora studying in B.G.S. International Public School in New Delhi volunteered to use their considerable time in aligning these children into mainstream education. When the ten-year-old daughter of their household help pleaded for assistance in completing schoolwork, the boys realized that there were learning gaps in the students of primary schools due to break in the regular classes during the pandemic. This incident motivated them to kickstart their voluntary project ‘Assistarz ‘. On every weekend the twins would spend time at the primary government schools of their neighborhood to bridge these gaps. What started as a simple exercise of teaching their domestic helper’s daughter transformed into a project of assisting more than 150 school children. The students looked forward to these classes, where they had fun-filled interaction with their peers and the young teachers along with serious learning. This initiative empowered the primary students who at times were bereft of online education due to lack of learning devices. The main aim of this program was to work for those who were worst hit by the pandemic, i.e., the migrant laborers. The twin brothers visited a score of underprivileged and helped them by solving their encountered problems. This includes arranging books for the children, special instruments for the blind etc. Their post pandemic philanthropy work has continued in the form of a startup called Robin Hood Academy, which caters to guiding and mentoring the underprivileged. So far, the academy has interacted with a massive number of students across geographies by assisting them with their education with focus on innovation and cutting-edge technologies.
Even though adults are desperately trying to engage children in doing the right thing, we continue to message that children are only capable of gestures of kindness and the collecting of things. While the pandemic challenged us to adapt to school closings, mask-wearing, and social distancing, it has also reinforced our own sense of “the urgency of now” in reimagining philanthropy and recasting the next generation as philanthropists.
There are many Indian schools across states that have allowed the charities to be organized and dispensed through students. However, there are some concerns about the permeation of business in education, relatively less attention is being paid to how schools are increasingly involved in the “business” of fundraising for charities. If this is avoided, we all must endorse the virtues of charities in schools.
There are scores of charities that have dedicated resources for tutors, school support staff and children to help them arrange communal fundraising events within their campus. Hence, we must not dismiss the idea of presenting charities as the “solution” to a range of social “ills” involving school-going children, though doing this we must not downplay the potential of other approaches such as the accountability of the state such as alleviating poverty, primary education, healthcare, affordable homes and animal welfare. Charities driven by the children seem to have a pure innocence and munificence, as larger charities are essentially becoming no different from big businesses. This certainly merits the reason to promote kid philanthropy and develop an eco-system for the same.
By Sarat C. Das