Next Wednesday, 16,000 students and educators from 420 schools throughout Canada will be gathering at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa to mark Canada’s National We Day 2014. For the third year, TELUS is partnering with Free The Children as National Co-Title sponsor of We Day, and they’ve invited Simon and I to attend the celebration again this year. (Well, they invited me and one guest, and I’m thrilled that Tristan has earned his own ticket to We Day through participating in the Kids Helping Kids club at school for the last year!)
You might remember we had the priviledge of attending Canada’s national We Day last year as well. Watching the boys meet and be inspired by Craig Kielburger was truly one of the best moments of my year, and the lessons we learned at We Day last year have inspired our actions ever since.
So what is We Day? It’s a series of events held across Canada and around the world to inspire youth to create change in their communities and around the world. You can’t buy a ticket to get in, though – admission is free of charge to those students who earn their way in through service. Students commit to take action on at least one global and one local initiative of their choice as a part of the year-long educational intiative called We Act. You might remember how proud I was last year when the boys’ school got a shout-out from Craig Kielburger himself for their amazing achievement of raising 170,000 pennies in support of Free the Children through the We Create Change program.
It’s truly wonderful to see the growth of We Day in just one year. Last year, there were 4,000 attendees at Canada’s National We Day and this year will welcome FOUR TIMES that number of participants. Attendees will be inspired by an incredibly diverse array of speakers and performers, from Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan to Martin Luther King III to National Chief Shawn Atleo. Craig and Marc Kielburger will be there, of course, and the hugely inspirational Molly Burke and Spencer West will be returning as well. If you read my post last year, you’ll remember that I was particularly inspired by Spencer West and I have been following him on Twitter ever since. I’m delighted to see he’ll be not only speaking again this year but engaging in a epic 10-week cross Canada road trip to talk to inspire and motivate Canadian students in the We Create Change Tour.
I’m especially honoured to be invited to We Day this year because I’ve seen the effects of the We Act program in our family and in our school throughout the past year. Tristan joined the Kids Helping Kids club at school and worked throughout the year on projects like raising awareness and making and selling duct tape crafts to raise money for We Create Change. Through We Create Change, children are encouraged to collect coins to fundraise for Free The Children’s Year of Education initiative to build 200 schools and improve access to education in developing communities around the globe. The We Create Change philosophy is simple, and I’ve seen it on kid-made posters hanging in the school: $20 in change = one brick. One brick = the cornerstone of education. Education = change for the world. Over Lent, the whole school is engaging in raising funds by doing extra chores around the house, and I can’t wait to see what the final tally is.
You’d be vastly underestimating the real message of We Day if you thought it was just about fundraising, though. What We Day is really about is education and empowerment. That was my take-away from being blown away by last year’s We Day event. You’ll pardon me if I quote myself from last year:
The definition of “changing the world” has changed for this generation, for the children we are raising today. When I was a child, it meant that you grew up to be an activist or someone in a position of power, or you were one of those extraordinary young people like Craig Kielburger himself, who drew global attention to a cause he was passionate about. What I’m realizing is what our kids seem to know intuitively, and what We Day is promoting: you don’t need a megaphone to make a difference, and you don’t need to be famous or powerful or have a lot of resources behind you. Social justice isn’t about petitioning on Parliament Hill and letter-writing campaigns, it’s about the choices you make and the way you live your life every single day.
Choose organic and local produce. Choose to hold a door for someone rather than let it slam. Choose to donate a bag of used toys to charity rather than dump them in the trash. Choose to spend 20 minutes of your time promoting a cause rather than playing a video game. Choose to turn off the tap while you brush your teeth and turn off the lights when you leave the room. Choose to speak up to defend someone rather than stand mutely by and watch bullying happen. Like the pennies collected by the boys’ school, each small act on it’s own may seem so insignificant as to be worthless. However, when you start stacking them by the thousands and hundreds of thousands, they have unmistakable, undeniable worth and value.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Look at these results! Since 2007, youth involved in We Act have raised more than $37 million for more than 1,000 global and local causes, have collected more than four million pounds of food, and have volunteered more than 9.6 million hours for global and local causes.
But here’s what’s equally, and perhaps more important: We Day inspires, engages and empowers youth to lead through service, building compassionate communities and transforming participants into active global citizens in the process. Independent third-party research shows that 98 per cent of youth participating believe they can make a difference after attending We Day, and 80 per cent of We Act alumni report volunteering more than 150 hours each year.
If you’d like to read more about We Act and We Day or better yet, if you’d like to get your family, school or company engaged in this movement, visit the Free the Children website. You can also download the amazing We365 app, a free mobile app and website that enables young people to track and verify their volunteer activities for school, as well as provide the tools needed to fundraise, take action, and amplify messages for thousands of different charities. Youth who participate in We365 challenges will have the chance to be rewarded with TELUS grants and scholarships. Further, through We365 TELUS will engage with kids via Earn Your Way challenges throughout the year, giving kids a chance to win exclusive opportunities like a hike with Spencer West or a day trip with Craig Kielburger. Challenges could include sharing a photo of one small act of change through the We365 platform. These actions will also be amplified through other social media platforms as We365 activity can also be shared through Facebook and Twitter.
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