Speaker Urges Young People to "Think Big" to Make Social Change

Children of the EarthThe first college chapter of Children of the Earth, a nonprofit that empowers young people to make a difference on the world stage, has been formed at Saint Mary's College.

The announcement was made at a presentation by Patrick McCollum, a board member of Children of the Earth, who spoke about the groundbreaking organization last week at the Soda Center in an address entitled "Young Leaders on the World Stage: Cultivating Spirituality and Building a Global Community."

McCollum said he was working on social justice and human rights initiatives in Moraga and elsewhere in California when he went to a Lasallian retreat and met Brother Gerald Rummery, who gave him a piece of advice that set him on a new path: "Stop thinking small."

He took the advice to heart and now, several years later, he is a recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Pluralism and one of the guiding lights of Children of the Earth, an organization that empowers young people to reach out and make an impact on the world.

"There's a misguided assumption that youth is equated with poor decision-making and lack of foresight. Not true," he said. "Young people can play a role in advocating for peace, sustainability and social justice on a global scale."

10,000 Members and Growing

Children of the Earth currently has about 10,000 young members, between the ages of 12 to 30, involved in projects around the globe, and it is continuing to grow. The organization creates Spirit Youth Hubs, which foster spiritual growth and unity, and Social Action Chapters, which use spiritual principles to create social change.

The work "requires that we find a common spirituality that we can all share," McCollum said. "All of humanity is family. We need to start treating each other like that."

One of the youths empowered by that message is Chloe Doan, an SMC student and intern with the college's Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism.

Doan traveled to Nepal with McCollum on a 2½-week Children of the Earth mission, with financial assistance from Saint Mary's regent Rand Morimoto, president of the IT consulting firm Convergent Computing.

Echoes of the Spirit of De la Salle

There, she observed the efforts of one of the group's more inspirational leaders, Jimmy Lama, a Tibetan who is working to help educate thousands of Tibetan street children. In a story that echoes the work of John Baptiste de La Salle in 17th-century France, Lama has bucked the authorities, who think the answer to homelessness is imprisonment. He began by holding classes in the streets of Kathmandu. Later, he created schools in abandoned buildings. Today, his nonprofit trains teachers and operates many schools in Himalayan villages.

Trekking to villages high in the Himalayas was physically grueling, but the experience was life-changing for Doan. "The hardest part was leaving," she said. "After going to such a drastically different place and feeling like a different person, the last thing I wanted was to go back home with the same mindset."

So, inspired by her experience in Nepal, Doan is creating at Saint Mary's the first collegiate-based chapter of Children of the Earth. The initial project, she said, will be to help Lama's work by providing books and supplies and by supporting the Toronto hub in building schools in the Himalayas.

At the end of the presentation, 50 students signed up to learn more about and volunteer for the chapter, eager to carry out McCollum's message that "you've just got to decide to make a difference. You've got to think big."

Photo courtesy of Chloe Doan.

Interested in learning more about the Saint Mary's chapter of Children of the Earth? Contact Chloe Doan at cmd6@stmarys-ca.edu.

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