Christopher Yao: World Changer
When Christopher Yao was diagnosed with an under-jaw bite beginning in middle school, he was told his speech would worsen and that he could develop eating problems if he didn’t go through surgery. It was a struggle for him, and he felt self-conscious. “I know how it feels to go through tough situations like these,” Christopher says. “I developed a passion for helping others going through situations worse than mine.” Christopher started fundraising for The Smile Train, which provides free cleft-lip surgery to underprivileged children around the world—children who might otherwise be abandoned at birth or unable to live a normal life. He single-handedly ran a Read-A-Thon in his sixth-grade class and raised more than $2,000 in one month. “I’d seen the power that young people have to change the world, maybe even more than many adults. I wanted to leverage that power of enthusiasm.”
That was June 2007. By September, Christopher had launched an organization to inspire young people to get involved in their communities and help other children around the world. He named it Kids Change the World (and also established Kids Change America, the organization within Kids Change the World, which works in the United States).
In the past five years, 19,000 supporters have joined Kids Change the World, including those who have been impacted through youth-led programs that the organization has initiated. Kids Change the World has raised enough to fund 60 cleft surgeries and treatments in 78 of the world’s poorest countries. Christopher turned 15 in fall 2011.
Kids Change the World is a great place for kids who are interested in volunteering to begin their journey, Christopher says. “Our main objective is to engage youth in service,” he says. “But we run our own programs, too, to hopefully get kids inspired.”
Every summer, Christopher and Kids Change the World run a Smile Train Read-A-Thon. They support and run many other programs, too, such as an Education Preparation program for students of all racial and economic backgrounds, a program that helps kids send thank-you letters to military, fundraising for Daos Children’s Centre in Kenya, Africa, and more. Kids Change the World also helps other kids start their own fundraising programs by providing free grassroots resources.
Christopher has received many honors and awards for his volunteerism. He has earned President Obama’s President’s Volunteer Award three years in a row and in December
2011, he was invited to a White House Holiday Reception to meet the Obamas, congressmen and many other White House staff. He was inducted into the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame with the Next Generation Award for Visionary Philanthropy in January 2012. Christopher is the New York High School Honoree in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards (2012) and one of Nestlé’s Very Best in Youth (2011).
Christopher keeps very busy with Kids Change the World, but one day, he will pass the reins to another young activist. He set up the organization with a 0% overhead rate and so that people under age 25 will run it—all 100% volunteers (so every dollar raised goes directly to programs). Later in life, he says, he will serve as a board member. A sophomore in high school, one day, Christopher hopes to study in the field of business or medicine and apply his studies to his charitable work, but he is open to many possibilities.
Christopher says it’s important to him to invest in the future of youth and our world. “I feel I have an obligation to be of service to others,” he says. He is inspired by his grandfather, Yulin Yao, who lost his parents at age five during the Chinese Revolution and worked on a farm picking weeds in exchange for food scraps. After graduating from the National Defense Medical Center in Tapei, Taiwan, he later came to the United States and worked at the U.S. Air Force Hospital on Clark Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. Today, he is a survivor of both prostate and lymphoma cancer. “My grandfather reminds me that miracles can happen. He also reminds me that not everyone has the opportunities I have, and that I need to help the people who don’t,” Christopher says. “I want to make the lives of people better in every possible way I can.”
Learn more about Kids Change the World at www.kidschangetheworld.org.