We Day inspires youth to create social change
Published Friday, September 28, 2012 10:50AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 28, 2012 5:33PM EDT
Thousands of youth rose to their feet chanting “We Day, We Day” at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Friday.
Through the deafening cheers the message was clear -- together change is possible.
“As we become aware collectively, this room, this generation, of our power, we will change the world,” said MP Justin Trudeau during his speech on Friday.
More than 20,000 students and supporters crowded Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and promised to commit to at least one local and one global change this year.
International charity Free the Children, co-founded by brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger, teamed up with social enterprise organization “Me to We” to create the one-day event. Its aim is to empower youth to make global change.
“Today young people gather together to celebrate our commitment to change,” said the Kielburgers in their opening speech. “Since the last We Day we have made incredible change,” adding that more than 1.7 million hours of volunteer time have been accounted for.
The Kielburgers shouted out to individuals in the audience, including Annaleise Carr, the 14-year-old who became the youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario. Carr raised $115,000 for Camp Trillium, allowing approximately 115 children with cancer to go to camp for 10 days.
Hugely notable speakers and performers graced the stage at Friday’s event including actor Martin Sheen, the Hon. Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, Nelly Furtado and Jennifer Hudson, and a surprise visit by rapper and singer K’Naan, who joined Furtado on stage during her set.
Themes of social injustice were the main talking points on stage as Trudeau and Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair focused on First Nations issues.
“The public schools of this country have not been teaching about Aboriginal problems properly,” said Sinclair, who asked the audience to educate future generations.
Dellaire, who was welcomed with enormous applause, spoke more globally.
“Your peers are in the mines being used as child labour. Only because they have no capability of protection,” said Dellair on stage Friday.
Dellaire laid the responsibility on the youths in the audience to “listen, laugh, cry and encourage and build humanity because each of us are equal.”
For 16-year-old London student Abbie Lumani, it was a trip to Kenya in 2011 that inspired her to create change.
“When I entered high school I didn’t even want to do my community service hours. Now I’m up to about 500 hours,” Lumani told CTV Toronto on Friday.
Lumani, who said her trip was “mind-blowing” created a five- and 10-kilometre run called “Picture this, Quenching Kenya’s Thirst,” which aimed to raise $5,000 for clean water for small villages in Kenya but garnered more than $10,000. The money went towards Spencer West’s “Redefine Possible” campaign, a Me to We motivational speaker who even after losing his legs at age five climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this past June.
We Day was also the kicking-off point for a number of upcoming campaigns from Free the Children. In an effort to provide fresh water to more than 100,000 people the organization will encourage people to collect soon-to-be defunct Canadian pennies and donate them.
Craig Kielburger, joined by singer Nelly Furtado and Hedley front-man Jacob Hoggard, spoke to media about the upcoming campaigns during Friday’s event.
“Water is one of those cornerstones in life, that many of us take for granted. We have the ability to provide someone with the essence of life,” said Hoggard about the launch of the “We Create Change” campaign.
"(Water) is everything to these communities," said Furtado who announced her $1 million donation to Free the Children last year.
Scarborough student Deeph Prashad, 16, also already started collecting pennies at her high school Sir John A. MacDonald.
Prashad was inspired by a presentation from Free the Children at her school last year where students were asked to get a water bottle and fill it with fresh water as fast as they could. In 47 seconds, the students were back with their bottles full.
“Imagine that it takes just 47 seconds to get clean water, it’s at your fingertips. Children and (families) travel for hours and hours to get not even clean water, it’s contaminated water,” Prashad told CTV Toronto on Friday.
Prashad started the penny drive to give back.
“With the penny drive, it’s easy for people to give. You’re not standing over them asking for a lot of money. It’s a lot of excitement at our school,” she said.
Excited students spilled out of the auditorium after a final call to action from the Kielburgers and a performance from Oscar-nominated singer Jennifer Hudson.
“You are part of a whole new generation -- what I call the generation without borders,” said Dallaire.
The first We Day was held in 2007 at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum where 8,000 youth came together to celebrate. The event is tied to a year-long We Act program, an educational initiative to encourage youth to get involved and volunteer.
CTV will air We Day highlights on Nov. 24 at 7:00 p.m.