Connecting Technology, Entertainment and Design

While “Disconnected” may have been the theme of the third-annual TEDxWaterloo, the day-long event held at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square achieved the opposite. The 12 diverse performers and speakers engaged and inspired the equally diverse live audience of approximately 1,400, along with 400 local high school students streaming the event from the Chrysalids Theatre.

The broad reach of the “Disconnected” online stream in addition to impressive large venue dwarfed the event’s humble beginnings in 2010 of an only 400-person audience, exemplifying lead organizer Ramy Nassar’s introductory words on Mar. 21, “Let’s use this as a platform to communicate around the world.”

Defying gravity

Exploring the universe beyond the confines of the Earth can only ever be a dream for most; but for two Toronto teenagers, getting an outsider’s perspective of our planet became a reality after successfully launching a weather balloon into near space.

Matthew Ho, 17, spoke at TEDx about the fears, challenges and excitement he and his friend, Asad Muhammad experienced in formulating and seeing through their idea for sending a homemade weather balloon equipped with cameras and – quite famously – a Lego man 80,000 feet above Earth.

“We went into this project almost blind,” explained Ho in an interview with The Cord prior to taking the stage. The greatest challenge, he continued, is self-created, “That aspect of the fear of failure — all you have to do to overcome that is the passion and determination and that drive right.”

What surprisingly has impressed Ho equally to the success of the project is the online attention it has garnered. “The Toronto Star got a hold of one photo and they released it and that same day it just went viral,” said Ho. “We’re glad we can share our photos and share our experiences on such a global scale — that’s what excites us.”

Ho and Muhammad are looking forward to a second launch of the project in the next month with the additional support from Lego International. This time, they’ve set their goal to hit 100,000 feet.
“Ideas are … only good in your head until you put them into action,” Ho advised to any students with similar goals. “All you need to do is go out there and pursue it.”

Impactful arts

“I sort of had the English degree feeling of ‘what do you do with a degree in English,’” said Shannon Blake, founder and artistic director of The Bench Theatre Initiative, about getting into her unique career.

Blake, who writes and directs plays in conjunction with Sanctuary, a drop-in centre for the homeless and marginalized adults, discussed the benefit of uniting art and community — a relationship she calls “artist-community interdependence.” Volunteering at Sanctuary while studying English at the University of Toronto, Blake and her peers had the idea to write and produce a play involving the members at Sanctuary, which would eventually become her first full-length play entitled “The Passages of Everett Manning.”

After her talk, Blake described the concept behind the play as “the idea of identity and how people’s identities are shaped in a particular way and how they can be reshaped through different experiences.”

Reflecting on what lead her to writing, Blake said, “I really enjoy stories and thinking about how stories are shaped and why we tell them.”
“I think you can communicate really powerful things through story,” she added.

Leaving footprints across the globe

Travelling the world in a lifetime is a daunting task; doing so by foot is seemingly impossible. However, for Quebec-native Jean Béliveau walking across five continents was his reality for more than ten years as he tried to spread a message of peace.

Béliveau began walking and running after falling into depression in an attempt to improve his health in the late 1990s. During a run in November 1999, he reached the Jacques Cartier Bridge outside of Montreal and the idea dawned on him to just keep going.

Eight months later, and with the blessing of his family, Béliveau set out on his 11-year journey.

“I was not a traveller. I went to America, and in Canada the furthest west I had been was Niagara Falls and no more. I didn’t speak English,” said Béliveau, after his talk. Yet despite the challenges of culture, language and environment, he walked across the globe staying with 1,600 families and receiving support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

While his journey has given him a plethora of stories, one commonality he found in spreading his message was, “I saw that everybody wants peace. Just because we have different concept of peace, that is why we fight.”

Finding that his walk has changed his perspective of the world — “it’s like I’ve passed through my university” — Béliveau concluded, “We have a lot to learn from other people.”

Raising voices

“When I started speaking I was dawned by the fact that people would whisper to me ‘me too,’” said Alicia Raimundo who began advocating for mental health at the age of 13 after experiencing periods of suicidal ideation and depression.
“I kind of realized that this is something, like every other kind of discrimination or stigma out there, this is something that we need to start fighting,” she said, in an interview before her TED talk.

Raimundo works to debunk the stigmas associated with mental illness and spread a message of hope — or in her words, to be an intentional superhero — to share the hope she was given from another woman combating mental illness. “I want to find other young people and pass the torch and get them to speak too because one young face is cool, but many young faces is amazing.”

Yet, regarding the difficulties youth particularly face in seeking help, she commented, “They don’t have the language, but they also don’t have the culture to be talking about it.”

Creating that culture is precisely why she go involved with TEDx. “If I can impact [an audience] to care about it, then we can move in that direction,” Raimundo said.

“That’s when we start a movement, when we get the average people to care.”

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