We Day hits Waterloo region

“You are the generation I’ve been waiting for,” cheered actress and filanthropist Mia Farrow to a crowd of over 6,000 youth that filled the Kitchener Auditorium last Wednesday, Nov. 17, for K-W’s second annual We Day.

We Day is the largest youth empowerment event of its kind. Led by Craig and Marc Kielburger and their charitable organization Free the Children, it is a day dedicated to inspiring the youth of this generation to make positive change in the world.

This year over 62,000 youth will attend We Days across Canada. This includes the 6,000 students from over 200 schools in Waterloo Region.

Sponsored by Research in Motion, the cost of a ticket is simply demonstrating leadership and volunteerism within the community. Don Morrison, Research in Motion CEO, encouraged youth to be the change. “We are the change. We are the hope. We are the me, in ‘me to we’,” he said.

Last year We Day youth had logged 1.7 million volunteer hours and raised 5.4 million dollars. Halloween for Hunger is the largest single day of fundraising for non-perishable food items. In 2010, 519,000 lbs of non-perishable food items were raised by more than 180,000 youth on Oct. 31 alone.

Free the Children was founded when Craig Kielburger was just 12 years old. He was inspired by the headline: “Battled Child Labour, Boy, 12, Murdered.”
The story detailed the life of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy, who had escaped child labour and at age twelve was shot and killed for leading a movement against child labour. With 11 classmates Kielburger decided to start Free the Children to combat child labour.

“15 years ago when we started Free the Children we got shoved into lockers it was so uncool,” said Craig. “Now, today there are stadiums full of students cheering for social justice.”

To date, Free the Children has built 650 schools that provide education for more than 55,000 children every day. 16 million US dollars worth of medical supplies has been shipped to over 40 developing countries.

Hollywood icon and UNIFEC goodwill ambassador, Farrow was among the speakers present at We Day. “The thing about Free the Children is, it isn’t just the school it’s the whole community,” said Farrow. “Aid is criticized … But this is helping commu
nities rise to the point where they can take care of themselves. It’s smart.”
“The greatest gift you can give is to help someone so they never need help again,” said Kielburger.

The all-star line up of speakers included James Ordinski, the only living Canadian to receive a Noble Peace Prize.
David Martin and Cheif Laforme both spoke to raise awareness about the poverty and disconnect experienced by aboriginal youth.

Keilburger announced that in February Me to We will be rolling out a campaign called Focus Spotlight to raise awareness about aboriginal experiences in Canada.

Among the most inspirational speakers was Michel Chikwanine, a child soldier who shared his story silently to demonstrate the power of silence and to stand up for those who have no voice. Instead Chikwanine told his story by holding up large boards with text on it.

“I’ve heard his story four times now,” said audience member Brian Wilson. “But hearing it that way was like I was hearing it for the first time.”

Retired UN lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire also had a very powerful message after sharing his experiences in the Rwandan genocide he encouraged youth to “dirty their boots” by travelling to developing nations as a rite of passage.
“Once you have seen and heard and felt and tasted and lived among the 80 per cent of humanity that is living in poor conditions,” said Dallaire. “You can come back and be the pilot light for us to change.”

When the cast of Degrassi and Michael Jordan hit the stage, the audience was electrified.

No one in the arena could deny the positive energy that circulated the building. “It’s probably an overused word because it really was inspiring,” said Cali McTavish, a first year at Wilfrid Laurier University who attended We Day as a volunteer.

“It’s really awesome to see all the positive energy going around the stadium and that’s just the best part for me,” added Amber Grant, a We Day volunteer.
“Even though there was a lot of truth about what was going on in the world it was all about positive attitudes,” said Wilson. “It was entirely positive.”

Comparatively smaller to We Days in Toronto or Vancouver, Wilson said, “The We Day in Waterloo was a lot more intimate but it was probably just as inspiring.”
“That energy that you feel around you,” said Keilburger, “that is the power of ‘Me to We.’”

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