The goal of We Day is to inspire youth to change the world. After witnessing my first We Day event last week, I have no doubt that they are succeeding.
I had the honour of attending the We Day Toronto event at the Air Canada Centre last week, along with 20,000 students and educators from 50 Toronto area schools. With the generous support of sponsors, including RBC and Telus, these inspirational We Day events are free for students to attend. Youth have the chance to be entertained and inspired by world-renowned speakers and performers to help inspire them to lead change both locally and globally.
Students cannot buy a ticket – they must earn it through service, by taking action on at least one local and one global initiative of their choice as part of the year-long We Act program. I must say that seeing 20,000 youth together in one place who had earned their way there was pretty inspiring on its own!
The atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre was electric. There was so much excitement and energy in the room – with good reason. Interspersed throughout the day were musical performances from a variety of superstars, including the Jonah Brothers, Austin Mahone, Serena Ryder, Imagine Dragons, Barenaked Ladies and Demi Lovato. As you would expect, these stars were met with lots of cheering and excitement from the young audience.
However, what impressed me the most was the enthusiastic response that the various speakers also received from the crowd. Speaking on a wide range of issues including hunger, discrimination, bullying, international volunteerism and the importance of education, the day was full of inspiration, and the students in attendance (along with the adults) seemed to be soaking it all in.
The founders of We Day and Free the Children, brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger spoke passionately about the importance of education and how many millions of kids around the world do not have the chance at a proper education. They challenged the youth in attendance to be “shameless idealists” in working to create a better world and kicked off the Year of Education in the We Create Change campaign. This year’s goal is to raise enough money to build 200 new schools.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and the first elected female Head of State in Africa spoke about overcoming obstacles and always believing in herself. She explained that the challenges and obstacles she had faced in her life had only made her “more determined and motivated.” She promised the youth in the audience that “in 50 years, you will have changed the world. Let me be very clear about that. You will have changed the world.”
Spencer West, Free the Children ambassador, author and double amputee who climbed Mt Kilimanjaro on this hands and in his wheelchair in 2012 to raise awareness of the need for clean water challenged the crowd to find a cause they are passionate about and then “get mad, get angry, speak out and then do something about it.”
Colonel Chris Hadfield talked about how he had been inspired to become an astronaut at the age of 9, when the idea of a Canadian going into space might have been absurd. Through many years of hard work, perserverence and dedication to his dream, he achieved his goal in 2012, and in 2013 took it one step further by becoming the first Canadian to command a spaceship. He reminded us all that “nothing is impossible.”
Michael “Pinball” Clemons talked about how real courage is “putting someone else’s needs before your own” and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke about bullying and how a little kindness can go a long way. Martin Luther King III spoke of the importance of education and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who got goosebumps when the video of his father’s “I Have a Dream” speech was shown.
When Molly Burke shared her haunting story of the cruel bullying she suffered as a young teen at the hands of her former best friends and the depression that resulted, the crowd was silent, hanging on to every word. She showed us how “words have the power to tear us down, but they also have the power to build us back up.” Being visually impaired, Molly could not see the crowd, but commented that she could feel their support. She definitely heard the cries of “We love you!” that were shouted out to her.
Tweens Hannah Alper and Vishal Vijay demonstrated poise and wisdom beyond their years as they talked about youth activists Iqbal Masih and Malala Yousafzai and how kids should find a cause they’re passionate about and work to make a difference. With their impassioned speeches, when 10 year old Hannah told the crowd that “you’re never too young to change the world” there was little doubt that she was right.
We Day Toronto was the first in a series of We Day events taking place in Canada, the US and the UK over the next nine months. We Day is part of a year-long We Act program, which encourages youth to lead local and global change. Since 2007, youth involved in the We Act program have raised $37 million dollars for over 1000 local and global causes, and logged more than 9.6 million volunteer hours.
Who says kids can’t change the world?
You can find out about how to get involved in Free the Children’s various awareness and fundraising campaigns at freethechildren.com.
All photos taken by Kathy Sima. To see more photos from the We Day Toronto event, visit our Facebook page.
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About Kathy Sima
Kathy is a blogger and freelance writer and mom of two teens who gave up her career as a financial advisor when her son was diagnosed with autism at age 3. When it comes to parenting, Kathy truly believes there is strength in numbers and knows that sharing stories and strategies with other parents has helped keep her sane (so far!)