He spends his weekdays haunting the corridors of one of Canada’s most elite private schools, but Bilaal Rajan’s time isn’t solely occupied with the pursuits of the average Grade 8 student.

As a child ambassador for UNICEF, Rajan travels to the world’s poorest nations, then tours his home country sharing his experiences with peers and elders alike.

When not grappling with homework, he spends his time devising strategies to raise money and awareness of the struggles experienced by those living in the Third World. It’s a heavy load for a 12-year-old to carry, but Rajan believes it’s one that he and others of his generation need to shoulder.

“Children are the ones who are able to make a difference,” Rajan said from his home in Richmond Hill.
“There are so many people that need help, and we’ve got to do something about it.”

Rajan’s latest project is designed to raise awareness rather than money, and has been timed to coincide with International Volunteer Week. He will be going barefoot all next week in hopes of making people consider the plight of those who go without shoes everyday.

Using Facebook and other tools favoured by his generation, Rajan has spread the word of his “Barefoot Challenge” and says friends as far afield as Australia, Thailand, Tanzania and Afghanistan have vowed to shed their shoes to support him.

One supporter closer to home is Leigh McMaster-Virani, a Toronto-area volunteer who has worked closely with Rajan in some of his previous charitable efforts.

As deputy convener of the schools program for the World Partnership Walk, she’s witnessed Rajan’s fundraising skills at work and says he and his school team have been able to raise $50,000 for the charity, which supports development projects in Asia and Africa.

She views Rajan as an ideal role model for young people, even holding him up as an example for her own six-year-old son.

And she believes Rajan’s message is falling on receptive ears within his own peer group.

“Everybody has a lot of respect for him,” she said.