If you think it’s easy to silence 18,000 kids in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on a warm September day…talk to Michael Chikwanine. That’s what he did, with ease, at the annual WE DAY event for Free The Children. He was one of the many guest speakers and performers brought on stage to inspire change. The quietest actions made the loudest noise. No words can express the powerful message Chikwanine had for the youth in attendance. But that was the only quiet moment in the high energy day!
WE DAY is attended by students representing 1000 schools nationally. Hand-selected by their teachers for their commitment to volunteerism and making a change in their communities. In this past year, 1.7 million volunteer hours were recorded by kids across Canada. No tickets were sold to this event..”You have to earn the right to be here.” says Marc Kielburger, who I had the opportunity to meet and chat with at a recent fundraising event for Free the Children. It’s evident at this massive pep rally that this IS what the Kielburgers call the “movement of today”. WE DAY is the largest youth empowerment event of its kind put on by educational partners and the international children’s charity — Free the Children.
Through the fast pace line-up of pop stars (Joe Jonas, Nelly Furtado, Classified, City of Colour, Shawn Desman, Nikki Yanofsky, Kardinal Official) to legendary motivational speakers (Danny Glover, Rick Hansen) and world peace activists (Mary Robinson, Spencer West, Michel Chikwanine) the youth in attendance were celebrated for their positive actions. They were also there to build their momentum to make a difference in their own communities and around the world.
Kids were inspired and taught that they are not alone in their journey to make a difference. That it’s COOL to care and that they can find their place within the movement to create global change.
Gasps were heard throughout the stadium when Mary Robinson, first female President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced her new initiative group to put a stop to undere-age marriages. “Can you imagine being married at 12 years old?” Robinson asked the audience.
Danny Glover had everyone cheering when he said “You ARE the change we’ve been waiting for!…and no matter what the cause, one person can make a difference. One person can inspire another person who will in turn inspire yet another person – all over the world, no matter their age, race or nationality”.
Spencer West, who has no legs, told a fascinating story about his trip to Africa where a young girl said to him “I didn’t know that these things happen to white people too!”. ..but he also went on to tell everyone that “you can do anything”. West is planning to climb Kilimanjaro.
Nelly Furtado made a surprise announcement at WE DAY with a donation of $1 million to Free the Children as well as her new Ambassadorship with the charity. The money donated will go towards building an all-girls boarding secondary school on the edge of Maasia Mara region of Kenya, making education accessible to 200 girls each year empowering them with the confidence.
My older son was selected to represent his school at the WE DAY event. I asked him what impacted him the most. I was surprised to hear that it wasn’t the music or the celebrities…. It was a 14 year old girl named Susan who had inspired him. Susan was flown here from Kenya to tell her story and to be reunited with Furtado. Susan lives with her aunt back home. Her limited education did her well but her aunt can not afford to continue to send Susan to school..nor is it a priority. But this year, she met Furtado in her village. Susan was inspired by Furtado’s confidence and that a “woman can have a voice”. Susan got the courage to go up to Furtado and tell her about how much she wanted to go to school and that there was no way for girls like her in East Africa to do so. My son was so surprised that a girl who WANTS to go to school simply cannot.
There were so many incredibly inspiring moments at WE DAY but even just being amongst the sea of energy was enough to move me to tears..several times. WE DAY is not just an event. Organizers hope that the kids will take the messages learned back to their peers and schools and continue to “be the change” Educational programs are set up and provided by Free the Children (www.freethechildren.com/weschools) including information about the Vow of Silence Day (November 30th).
WE DAY was known as Me to We Day..but things are changing as WE, in the west are opening our eyes. As Nina Dobrev (star of Vampire Diaries and Ambassador for Free the Children) said “We didn’t go to Africa FOR the kids..we went to be WITH them.” And if you understand that…then you understand that WE are all in this world together.
WE DAY events were also recorded for future televised presentations on CTV and MuchMusic. And WE DAY events are held across Canada.