Thirteen year-old Bilaal Rajan isn't your average high school student. The globally-recognized motivational speaker is also a child and environmental activist, best-selling published author, tireless fundraiser, and UNICEF Canada Ambassador. Rajan founded Making Change Now, an organization that heightens awareness of youth and environmental issues and helps children worldwide.
"My main goal is to have one million people take action, get involved in their communities and help create a better world," says Rajan, whose accomplishments became the content of his newly-published, best-selling book, Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever (Orca Books). In it, Rajan focuses on being creative, thinking big and being bold. He shows people of all ages how possible - and how much fun - it really is to make a difference.
When Rajan was only four years old, he sold clementine oranges door-to-door to raise funds for the victims of the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India. It was a small start, but since then he has sold handmade acrylic plates for HIV/AIDS orphans, helped build a Tanzanian school for HIV/AIDS orphans, sold cookie boxes and raised over half a million dollars in donations for the affected people of Hurricane-devastated Haiti, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the World Partnership Walk over the past decade going directly to poverty relief.
In 2004, Rajan issued a Canada Kids Earthquake Challenge, challenging young people everywhere to get involved and make a difference by raising funds for the children devastated by the Tsunami in south-east Asia, which generated millions. To date, he has raised over $5 million for children's programs worldwide.
As a UNICEF Ambassador, Rajan has traveled to numerous countries to personally see how the funds he raised were making a difference. Two years ago, he volunteered in central Africa, conducting HIV/AIDS workshops with young people, some of whom had lost mothers and fathers from the disease. In August 2008, he traveled to Ecuador help build schools.
Rajan's latest global awareness initiative, The Barefoot Challenge, saw him live life without shoes for seven days during National Volunteer Week, from April 19 to 25, 2009. Thousands of people from more than 25 countries around the world kicked off their shoes to better understand the struggles faced by underprivileged children in developing nations, many of whom cannot afford shoes, let alone other basic necessities. "The Barefoot Challenge was an international call to action," says Rajan. "And when people asked me why I didn't have shoes, I told them because millions of children throughout the world don't either."
In June 2009, Rajan traveled to South Africa to meet personally with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to discuss his projects and new ways in which people can become more active in changing the world. He also spoke at several schools and met with young students throughout the country. In August 2009, Rajan participated in a two-week scientific expedition of the Arctic where he learned how increasing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are affecting the Aboriginal peoples of the far North. He saw first-hand the destructive changes caused by global warming.
Through his very busy speaking schedule, Rajan is challenging corporations to take action on important issues. "Businesses can be at the forefront of social and environmental change," he says. "They have a huge opportunity to increase their public profile by making a difference in the community and reducing environmental waste. It's a win-win situation."
Rajan's motto is "Together We Can Make A Difference." He believes this isn't just a youthful dream, but our destiny.
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