By: ERICA HOWES
A group of eleven young people stood completely silent for one hour outside the Parliament buildings during a cold morning on Saturday.
There was no yelling or honking of cars horns. Instead, the group stood with tape covering their mouths, holding signs with statistics about children’s malnutrition, lack of education and child labour.
The group is raising awareness for the annual Vow of Silence campaign. For one day every year, young people pledge not to talk or use social networking websites. Their goal is to raise money and awareness for children’s rights around the world.
The campaign is run by Free the Children, an international charity that fights against child labour and promotes education in developing countries. The charity was started by Craig Kielburger when he was 12 years old, and relies on other young people to help spread its message.
Throughout the year, hour-long demonstrations are held in cities across Canada to advertise the event.
“It gets people’s attention because you don’t [normally] see a bunch of people not talking, with tape over their mouths,” says sixteen year old Max Touchette, who has been involved with the organization Free the Children for three years.
“It makes people feel a little bit uncomfortable so then they have to ask what’s going on just so they can understand better.”
Touchette, along with the other ten youth of the demonstration make up the Ottawa Mobilizers – a group of active high school and university students who organize awareness and fundraising campaigns for Free the Children.
“We’re all young people so there’s no hierarchy,” says Alannah Ford, a fourth-year Carleton student who leads the Ottawa Mobilizers. “You make your own plans and you go for it.”
In their hour on Parliament Hill Saturday, dozens of people saw these dedicated youth. Some people kept walking, others took a moment to read the signs, and many stopped to say thank you.
“I’m a child sex abuse councillor so this really hits home. I’m a tourist and it’s amazing what you’re doing here,” one passerby said.
One little girl walked by the demonstration, trying to sound out the words on a sign that explained 215 million children are engaged in child labour. As she walked away, her mother began explaining, “Some kids around the world don’t get to go to school.”
Despite the participants being silent, the demonstration got people talking. “Young people do care,” Ford emphasizes. “We’re not just sitting by and being idle…we are young and have the power to do this.”