Thoughtful Activism for Kids

My son’s selling lemonade this weekend to raise money for Ryan’s Well Foundation, a charity he’s learning about at school. His grade two teacher introduced Ryan’s Well to teach the kids about community leadership and helping others. I welcome her efforts and support my child in trying to do good. I also want him to consider why he’s able to help, while Ryan and Jimmyothers are not so privileged. I’d like him to learn something about inequality and the contexts of poverty.

Ryan’s Well was inspired by 6 year old Ryan Hreljac, who raised money for a well in Uganda after learning that not everyone had access to clean water. Fast forward 14 years and Ryan’s Well Foundation has done lots of great work. The Foundation helps local groups establish best practices for building, using and maintaining water supplies in their communities. While communities are ultimately responsible for their water projects, Ryan’s Well provides education, follow-up monitoring and evaluation aimed at helping sustain projects for the long-term.

All of this sounds simple enough. Water is a basic human need and I too wonder at the fact that some kids walk hours to get water, while mine can get a glassful steps away. I’m glad my child notices how many taps we’ve got in our home and tries not to take clean water for granted. And I’m glad he wants to help others have the same easy access.

Along with thinking about how he can help, I want him to consider why help is needed. Why do we have clean water while others don’t? I want him to know that some people can’t afford water, while others waste it carelessly. Or that some people can access education, ideas and technology that allow for clean water and while others are cannot. I want him to know there are political and historical as well as geographical reasons for the way things are. Colonial and neo-colonial resource exploitation, wars, structural adjustment, development projects gone bad, and climate change are a few reasons some kids don’t have clean water.

I want my son to act, but I also want him pay attention and learn about complex issues around development, power and helping people.

Questions to help kids be thoughtful activists:

1. What other challenges might people face along with a lack of clean water?

2. How does it feel to accept help? To be vulnerable?

3. Can help be unwelcome? How does it feel when a stranger helps? How does it feel when someone imposes help?

4. How can we find out the best way(s) to help?

5. What are the reasons help is required? Are there historical or political contexts that are important to know about?

What questions would you would add to this list?

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