Completely obsessed … with helping others

Completely obsessed … with helping others

Most 17-year-olds have hobbies, but unlike Brittany Fried, not many are totally hooked on helping others

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Brittany speaks at We Day in Beijing organised by Me to We in October this year.
Brittany speaks at We Day in Beijing organised by Me to We in October this year.
Photo: SCMP

Brittany Fried is a fangirl. But not in the typical way. She doesn't obsess over members of popular bands, or famous actors. Brittany is a fangirl with a different passion: community service. Young Post sat down with the 17-year-old activist to find out how she became so involved in giving back.

Brittany, a Grade 12 student at Hong Kong International School, first realised her passion when she was in middle school. When researching a school project in eighth grade, she stumbled across a book called Free the Children, written by Craig Kielburger who founded a social enterprise charity with the same name. When she read it, Brittany was hooked.

"I couldn't put it down," Brittany laughs. "I mean, I still have my copy. It's highlighted on every single page. I ran out of coloured highlighters, like, three times." With Free the Children as a starting point, Brittany began to learn more and more about issues such as child labour and other children's rights.

Not long after this, she attended a lecture by Kielburger, who quickly became her inspiration. "[The lecture] was about how you as an individual, no matter your age, can make a difference and help with change," she remembers.

And inspiring others was what Brittany was determined to do. That year she helped introduce Free the Children's "We Are Silent" campaign to her school, where students are sponsored to stay silent for 24 hours to show how children around the world often cannot speak up for themselves. The school raised US$11,500.

The student body chose to donate the money to building a school in Kenya. Brittany went to Kenya with Free the Children, and partner organisation Me to We, to work on the school their money helped build. "It was out of my comfort zone," she recalls. "And it was just what I needed."

Over the next few years she continued to work with Me to We and other organisations, taking service trips to Ecuador, the mainland, India, East Timor and Cambodia. With each trip she took, she felt her enthusiasm grow.

Much to her surprise, she was invited to come work with Me to We as an intern in Shanghai over the summer.

At only 17, Brittany was the youngest volunteer on staff. Once trained, she helped lead "Take Action" camps, which help people to get involved in service work across China.

Brittany's passion and energy during her internship caught the attention of the organisation, and a few months after she had returned to Hong Kong, she got the call she had always dreamed of. She was asked to speak at Free the Children's "We Day" events in Beijing and Dalian - alongside founder Craig Kielburger.

"I got the call and I made it through the call, and I hung up and I just started bawling," she remembers, laughing. "I just started crying. My friends were like 'What's wrong with you?'"

And so in late October, Brittany found herself speaking in front of about 1,000 students, telling her story and encouraging other teens to get involved themselves. And of course, she got to meet her idol, Kielburger, in person.

But for Brittany, this dream-come-true is only the beginning. She plans on getting her degree in International Relations, and already knows she'll pursue a career working with charities or social enterprises.

For students in Hong Kong, Brittany realises that it can be confusing and difficult to get involved with community service. While many schools have volunteer requirements, this can give students the wrong impression. "I think what's really important in Hong Kong is changing that mindset and making people see service not necessarily as a compulsory thing," she says. "We need the mindset that it's something people should want to be doing."

Once students are passionate and interested in service, Brittany says they need to take initiative. Students need to be willing to pursue opportunities and find chances to get involved.

"There's always an opportunity for you to help out," Brittany says, "but you need to take that initiative. You need to put yourself out there."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A new kind of obsession

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