“Philanthrokid”: Bilaal Rajan

You could call Bilaal Rajan of Richmond Hill, Ontario, a philanthrokid. That’s a term used in this article to describe kids who go beyond collecting coins for charity to become pre-teen fundraising phenomenons raising millions of dollars for charitable causes. As a fourth-grader Rajan raised thousands for victims of Hurricane Jeanne in Haiti. He continued fundraising following the 2004 Tsunami, coming to the attention of UNICEF, who made him a children’s ambassador and had him speak at schools to his peers about making a difference. He travels around the world to meet with children, including a trip last month to South Africa where he also met humanitarian luminaries Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

b.rajan.jpgAccording to Rajan, his philanthropic career started at age 4, when his dad read him a story about the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that inspired him to go door to door, accompanied by an adult, selling clementines to raise funds for earthquake victims.

I first heard about him in connection with the Barefoot Challenge, which seems to be more about raising awareness than about raising money. Rajan and those who participated in his challenge a few months ago spent a week barefoot to raise awareness of children living in poverty. Chronicling the events of that week, which included being kicked off a sports team and advised against attending a field trip in addition to fielding dozens of media interviews and being trailed by a photographer, Rajan explains the connection.

Wednesday was the fourth full day of the challenge and I got my first blister on the bottom of my foot. It hurt pretty bad, and I can’t imagine what some children in the underdeveloped world must experience. The difference is that in a country like Canada, we have the medicines and disinfectant to heal it and patch it up in no time. Unfortunately, the millions of underprivileged kids around the world don’t have that kind of access to health care. (Citizen Bytes)

With his books, projects, powerpoint presentations to motivate school children and measured public-speaking cadence, Rajan might seem like a miniature adult instead of a kid. But the article on parents of philanthrokids mentions some steps taken by Rajan’s parents to try to maintain his childhood.

…families have also set limits so that the business of being a kid isn’t overrun by the world’s problems. Once, the Rajans turned off their phones and Internet for two days so Bilaal could simply play with his friends.

Mrs. Rajan, who acts as her son’s manager, has limited him to one engagement per week. He’s booked until January, 2010. “Right now, it seems okay,” Mrs. Rajan says. “But when you look back, you say, ‘Oh my God, how many 12 year-olds want to do this?’” (The Globe)

His parents also take measures “to ensure the public doesn’t perceive them as overzealous puppet masters: The Rajans avoid being in the room when their son is interviewed.” A one-on-one interview with him reveals another side of this pre-teen, his dreams and interests.

Rajan says that although he finds math easy, he still has some things he needs to learn for his impending test. He’ll need his math, too, if he wants to realize his goal of becoming a neurosurgeon and an astronaut, or, as he wonders aloud, “the first neurosurgeon in space, yeah.”

After carefully reading the rules and regulations posted on the locked gate, which mention nothing about criminal charges or trespassing, I offer to aid and abet Rajan with the bike situation. Within seconds he’s tearing around the park, up and over the ramps with the excitement of well, a 12-year-old who just snuck into a skate park. (Post City)

So, you could call Bilaal Rajan a philanthrokid. You could also just call him a kid — a kid who cares a lot about making a difference for other children around the world.

Sidenote: “Raising a philanthrokid” mentions a 1990s predecessor of today’s young philanthropists.

In the years since 12-year-old Craig Kielburger of Toronto took a stand against child labour and wound up on Oprah and winning the children’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, many more young people have followed his lead.

This name wasn’t familiar to me, but when I looked up the non-profit he founded, Free the Children, I learned that Kielburger was inspired by children’s rights activist Iqbal Masih of Pakistan, whose name I do know, thanks in part to the media buzz created by Kielburger on the issue of child labor.

10 thoughts on ““Philanthrokid”: Bilaal Rajan

  1. The correct spelling of my state is GUJARAT and not GUJURAT. Sorry for nit picking;-)

  2. This kid is making me feel good about humanity generally, but bad about myself specifically.

  3. he sounds like one of those kids with over-bearing parents who push them to do things like this. this kid, if left to his own devices, would be playing wii all day long, but his parents probably threatened to spank him unless he goes door-to-door with them in front of a journalist.

  4. Boston_mahesh, had your parents threatened to spank you in the same way, maybe you’d be doing something better with your life than sitting on your computer and criticizing a fourth grader for helping humanity.

  5. Smart kid; already thinking about padding his college application. Let’s see if he stay’s barefoot in the Canadian winter; that will be a true test.