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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Pint-sized blogger wants to change the world

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Hannah Alper

Talking with Hannah Alper is a completely pleasant, but jarring experience. Hannah is 10 years old.

She’s on the wee side, crinkles her nose, swings her legs when seated, and giggles often. She’s a kid from Richmond Hill who likes to draw and ride her bike, hang out with friends and watch baseball with her dad. She holds a purple belt in karate.

Typical enough.

But then, she starts talking, and suddenly, you hear a tiny voice saying very adult things: expositions on eco-friendly cleaning products, child labour, Earth Hour, eliminating poverty. It goes on, seamlessly.

Poised and articulate beyond her years, Hannah is the brains and conscience behind the blog Call Me Hannah. While one could say the last thing the cluttered web needs is another pontificating blog, this one manages to cut through the noise with the sage and innocent perspective only a child could provide.

Earlier this summer, Hannah marked her first “blogaversary.” Since starting, she’s focused mainly on environmental activism, but also on bullying, child labour, leaving pets in hot cars, and her week spent at Take Action overnight camp, run by Craig and Marc Kielburger’s world-renowned organization, Free the Children.

“I learned to change the world,” Hannah casually relates about the week-long camp experience, “and how to make a difference.” Later in the summer, she attended Camp Gesher.

Making a difference is her prime motivator, and people seem to be listening (or reading). Her posts are garnering thousands of views, and she’s developed a solid following. Hannah also conducts celebrity interviews, and her chat with Amy Ray of the U.S. folk/rock duo Indigo Girls racked up nearly 4,000 views.

Hannah started her blog after attending a three-hour WordPress workshop at the Digital Family Summit last summer. After reaching 100,000 page views in six months, she became something of a media darling, with interviews by Global TV, CP24 Breakfast Television, The Marilyn Show, CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos, and Zoomer. She’s been featured in Chickadee magazine and was named a Champion of the Earth in Owl magazine.

Hannah’s aware that other kids have blogs, but says they tend to be about their authors or pop culture. She wanted something different.

“I didn’t want to make a blog that was all about me like some others kids do,” she says. “I wanted to do something I was passionate about, and I was always passionate about the environment. I always loved nature.”

And unlike many blogs that are mere aggregations, snippets or links to websites, Hannah prefers longer, original entries.

“I usually do long posts because I just have a lot to say. I let it out!” She updates about twice a week, and her social media-savvy parents, Eric and Candace, help her edit and proofread.

“But school comes before anything,” she adds quickly. Not surprisingly, Hannah, who’s about to enter Grade 5, earns As and Bs.

As a veteran eco-blogger, Hannah’s tips include making your own enviro-friendly cleaning products from vinegar, borax and baking soda.

“That one got a lot of hits and comments, because that was so simple and you can do that really easily,” she says.

For this year’s Earth Hour and Earth Day, she listed several dos – unplugging unused electronics, planting vegetables, organizing neighbourhood cleanups – and don’ts – littering, using plastic bags and water bottles and leaving unneeded lights on.

She smiles. “I enjoy it so much because I know I’m making a difference. I love inspiring people to commit to making a difference. Whenever I do an interview, it’s always good because I know that they’re spreading the word and I know that people are doing my tips, like eco-friendly cleaning supplies or the Earth Hour pledge. It just feels so good. It’s not something that most kids do.”

For Free the Children, she took part in the campaign We Create Change that collected pennies to support the group’s water projects in developing countries ($25 buys clean water for one child for life; the effort raised $1.4 million in total).

Hannah launched the project at two schools, and helped raise 97,500 pennies, or $975.

 “It was amazing!” she enthuses. “That equals clean water for 39 people for their entire lives. It just feels really good.”

Besides her parents, her role models are David Suzuki and his daughter Severn, the Kielburgers, Terry Fox, and legless activist Spencer West.

And - no surprise again - she knows what she wants to be when she grows up: an environmental activist.

If she had a slogan, it would be: “Little things add up to make a big difference.”

Her advice for kids and others hoping to make a mark on the world is simple: “Follow your passion. If you want to make a difference and you think that people won’t like it, you should just keep doing it. I know that I’m probably not going to stop my blog for a long, long time ‘cause it really gets the word out. If I stop then I’ll miss it.”

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