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Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyrathi
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyrathi

Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist and the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient with Malala Yousafzai, told Middle and Upper School students today that they are the ones who can bring change to the world.

“You need not look for a leader outside,” he said. “There is a champion and a hero and a leader inside of each of you.”

Satyarthi and his organization, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement), have freed an estimated 89,000 children from child slavery, sex trafficking, and exploitation since 1980. He recently started the 100 Million Campaign to mobilize youth activists around the globe to help protect children from violence, enslavement, exploitation, and sex trafficking, and to advocate for education for all children.

Satyarthi brought Payal Jangid, 17, with him to Riverdale. She was honored this week by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a Goalkeeper Global Goals Changemaker Award for her work to end child marriage in her village in Rajasthan, India.

Satyarthi said he became aware of the lack of opportunity for children in India as a five-year-old child. He was starting school, and he saw a child his own age who sat outside the school gates every day waiting for work. One day he asked the child’s father why the boy did not go to school. “You are born to go to school,” the father replied, “and we are born to go to work.”

Several years later, when Satyarthi moved on to the next level of schooling, he was dismayed that some of his friends would not be continuing with him because they could not afford textbooks. He and a friend took a vegetable cart into the neighborhoods and called for book donations. In a few hours, he said, they collected more than 2,000 books. The headmaster and teachers became involved, and 10,000 books were collected for a lending library in the town that allowed needy children to borrow the books that they needed for their educations.

Satyrathi went onto engineering school and became a university professor. He left in 1980 because he was “not doing justice to myself and my passion.”

While the 100 Million campaign has a vast goal, he said there are three billion people younger than 25 in the world who have the potential to change the world for the good. “There is a champion and a hero and a leader inside of each of you,” he said.

“No voices could be louder and more powerful and impactful than the voices of young people for young people. If you speak out, then your voices cannot be ignored.”