Many people go through their entire lives without experiencing much excitement or stepping outside their “comfort zone” to shake things up or alter their routine, daily lives. And then there are others who go out of their way to change lives, become community leaders or devote their time and energy to empower others. This week I had the opportunity to be among 16,000 of these potentially life-changing individuals as I attended We Day, a powerful, motivational life-changing event which was the opportunity of a lifetime for me.
Free The Children’s National We Day – Canada took place on Wednesday, April 9th at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. Free The Children, founded by brothers Craig & Marc Kielburger in 1995 (when Craig was only 12 years old), is an international charity and educational partner that believes in a world where all young people are free to achieve their fullest potential. Today it has become one of the world’s largest youth-driven charities to provide holistic and sustainable development internationally.
We Day is taking the philanthropic world by storm and is now the largest event of its kind. It celebrates the power of young people to change the lives of others by featuring a series of inspirational and motivational speeches by top leadership and social issues activists, speakers and entertainers. To say this was the most energetic and inspirational event I have ever attended would be an understatement!
Although We Day was held in Ottawa, many Cornwall and area school children attended this event. It is thanks to the generous support of sponsors such as RBC and TELUS that admission to the students in attendance is is free of charge. However, it is important to note that not just any student can reserve a ticket to attend We Day but that they must earn their ticket through service by committing to take action on at least one local and one global initiative of their choice as part of the year-long educational program called We Act. Together, We Day and We Act are providing a blueprint for raising a generation of active local and global citizens. This is certainly proved by the millions of dollars, hours volunteered, pounds of food collected for local food banks and hours of silence logged by youth who stood up for children in developing communities silenced by poverty and exploitation.
As a side note, I am very proud to say that my daughter was among the 16,000 students who attended the event with 37 other children from St. Columban’s Catholic School here in Cornwall. Dozens of other schools from provinces in the East and West coast of Canada as well as 354 schools from the Ottawa region were in attendance including some local schools such as Viscount Alexander, Gladstone Public, Ecole secondaire La Citadelle and Iona Academy just to name a few.
There were too many esteemed guest speakers to name but aside from the sponsor representatives and local youth speakers, some of this year’s We Day featured guest speakers included The Honourable David C. Onley (Lieutenant Governor of Ontario), The General Governor of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, Jason Spezza, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips (Ottawa Senators captain and alternate captains), Me to We inspirational speakers and Free The Children ambassadors Spencer West (author and double amputee who climbed Mt. Kilmanjaro), and Hannah Alper (11-year old blogger and youth activist), US Ambassador to Canada and his wife Bruce & Vicki Heyman, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and Martin Luther King III (human rights advocate and eldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Performances by pop-rock-pop band Neverest, JUNO Award-winning band Simple Plan, Canadian R&B recording arist JRDN and award-winning Canadian rapper and record producer Kardinal Offishall were also on the day’s schedule of events. Although I was there as a media representative, I can honestly say I was star-struck not only to be able to hear these guests speak and be in the same room as them but to also meet many of them in person. What an honour!
I would like to say THANK YOU to the founders of Free the Children, event organizers and the more than 800 volunteers who were on-hand to help make this event a success. THANK YOU to the speakers who helped deliver the message that youth today do have meaning and purpose and that they will do big things if they are armed with knowledge and education. THANK YOU to Spencer West for “redefining possible” and teaching us to ask “What can we learn from a negative situation and how can we make it better?”. THANK YOU to Martin Luther King III for guiding us to “be the best we can at what we do and to dream big”. THANK YOU to Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan for confirming that “the lines we draw on a map are not drawn on people” and that “there is no more powerful voice than young people themselves”, that “all children have a right to live a healthy and productive life”, and that “changing the world is not something you have to wait to do” until you’re older. THANK YOU to Ashley Murphy (youth speaker who is HIV positive) who taught us to “Have an open heart and the take the lids off the boxes we live in”. And finally, I say “megwich” (thank you) to National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. My hope is that the youth of today will be as empowered to make changes (however little) as you all certainly have.
If your child was not part of We Day, please consider downloading the FREE We365 mobile app through Blackberry World, Google Play or Apple App Store or by chekcing out their website (www.we365.com). We365 is available in English and French and enables young people to track and verify their volunteer activities for school, make use of tools to take action or to play a part in making a change in their own community and future.
If you would like to experience this phenomenal event in person, from April 11 to June 17, the We Create Change Tour (featuring Spencer West, Canadian pop-rock band Neverest and 11 year-old Hannah Alper and other special guests) will be on a coast-to-coast trip to help provide overseas peers with access to education. The We Create Change Tour will consist of 90 stops, 10 weeks and one epic tour! For more information, please visit www.freethechildren.com/wecreatechangetour
Lastly, the Me to We site has many fundraising efforts in place in support of Free The Children such as jewelry, books and other products. My favourite includes the Rafiki bracelets – for as little as $10, you can offer clean water for 1 year to 1 person, one year of healthcare or school supplies to 1 child, one month of healthy meals for 1 child or sustainable financial tools to empower women. Stop by www.metowe.com to see how you can help out.
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