CANADA: Teenager leads barefoot campaign

Thirteen-year-old Bilaal Rajan has people of all ages kicking off their shoes and going barefoot in support of his latest campaign.

Next Tuesday is International Children's Day and Rajan is participating in an annual event he launched last year called the Barefoot Challenge where he lives life without shoes to raise awareness about child poverty in the developing world.

"I've visited countries in Africa and met with hundreds of children who walk miles every day barefoot to fetch water, work on their farm lands, or go to school," says Rajan. "It made me think of what life would be like to live without something we take for granted."

The Toronto-based UNICEF Youth Ambassador, best-selling author, fundraiser, and social and environmental activist is already a serious force to be reckoned with. His best-selling book, Making Change: Tips from an underage overachiever , is an operating manual for making a difference, no matter what your age.

Last year, the idea gained momentum across Canada and with people in countries as far away as Afghanistan, Australia, England, Kenya, Malawi, Switzerland, Thailand and Tanzania.

"In 2010, the Barefoot Challenge is going to be bigger than ever before," adds Rajan. His school, Lakefield College School, is also taking part in the challenge.

Since 2001, Rajan has been instrumental in raising millions of dollars for various causes. Five years ago, he was chosen as an official Youth Ambassador for UNICEF Canada.

Rajan is asking Barefoot Challenge participants to have friends, family and neighbours sponsor them and donate the proceeds to UNICEF Canada.

"This initiative is a call to action," he says. "And when people ask me why I don't have shoes, I'll remind them that millions of children throughout the world don't either."