Role models inspire youth to “be the change”

ages-stages-teens-summer13Back in 1995, Thornhill, Ont.’s Craig Kielburger, 12, was so outraged by a newspaper article about the death of Iqbal Masih, a child labourer in India, that he was moved to begin fighting child labour. He has been actively making a difference in our world ever since.

Kielburger founded Free The Children, along with 11 classmates, with the goal to free children from poverty, exploitation and from the notion that they are powerless to effect change.

He may not have known that it would evolve into a national movement inspiring today’s youth to become agents of change, but that’s exactly what happened.

The Ottawa-Gatineau region welcomed the first National We Day on April 29 at the Robert Guertin Arena. Take a group of tweens and teens who have earned their way to the event through volunteer service, throw in some amazing activist speakers and top talent, and you get an arena filled with passion, inspiration and electric energy.

If you have ever looked at today’s youth and wondered about the future, your faith will be restored if you watch a web-streamed or televised We Day. Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger have made it cool for youth to be kind, to volunteer, to care.

The underlying message of the event, and the movement, is that we can all make a difference and there is strength and power in unity.

With performances by Canadian stars such as Shawn Desman and the pop-rock group Neverest, as well as appearances from high-profile activist supporters such as actor Martin Sheen, Frank O’Dea and Chief Shawn Atleo, the event was a rousing success.

But it was the Me to We ambassadors and motivational speakers Spencer West and Holly Burke who really captivated the audience.

Born with a congenital spinal disorder, Spencer West underwent a double leg amputation when he was five. He shared his story of

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in June 2012 — on his hands.

With his “Redefine Possible” campaign, he raised more than half a million dollars for Free The Children’s Water Initiative to provide permanent access to clean water for 100,000 people.

This May, West is trekking 300 kilometres from Edmonton to Calgary in the We Walk 4 Water initiative, in solidarity with the millions of women and children in developing countries who spend several hours each day walking to collect water.

Another highlight of the event was Holly Burke’s moving story about being bullied. A surprising revelation came a few minutes into her presentation, when she revealed she is totally blind.

Burke spoke about the power of voice and speaking out against bullying and conversely, taking it back through “our vow of silence,” another Free The Children initiative.

Visit the Me to We and Free The Children websites for information, videos and resources to share with your children and hopefully inspire them to “Be the Change.”

by Leslie Foster