Sitting in the Air Canada Centre, you can feel the excitement in the air. To quote a very famous line from a song, “it smells like teen spirit”. At the instant the lights come up, a roar equivalent to a 6 magnitude earthquake rumbles through the Air Canada Centre. The crowd screams, and Craig and Marc Kielburger, two of the world’s most influential non-profit leaders take the stage.
For the past five years, the brothers and their team from Free The Children have brought together thousands of students and teachers to inspire them to take action and make a difference in their communities and around the world. We Day Toronto hosts 20,000 students in one day; We Day as a whole will host over 100,000 students in stadiums and arenas across Canada. This doesn’t include all of the schools watching the event over the internet, or the MuchMusic broadcast that will happen at 7pm on Sunday November 11th. This event is HUGE!
We Day definitely has a big impact because of the big names attached to it. Nelly Furtado! Jacob Hoggard! Al Gore! Lt. General Roméo Dallaire! Justin Trudeau! Martin Sheen! Jennifer Hudson! The list goes on.
As one-day events in 8 cities across Canada, We Day is inspiring (see Caitie Drewery’s We Day blog post from last year). Students leave the room feeling energized, inspired, and ready to take on the world.
But the real power behind We Day is the thousands of young and eager champions of change cheering in the crowd. They have logged nearly 2 million volunteer hours through the We Schools in Action program. They have raised money, fought poverty, hunger, child labour, and bullying, and have rallied for countless other important causes. They are making change in the world, and their reward is a day off school and a lifetime of inspiration from their own impact and through the speakers and performers at We Day.
I met with one group of students who have been participating in the We Schools in Action campaign for 5 years. In the village of Lakefield, Ontario, St. Paul’s is an elementary school with only 200 students. Every month of every school year they hold events to help raise money for Free the Children’s Adopt a Village program and food for their local food bank. Some of their events include coffee house fundraisers, an annual haunted house, mini We Day, the Vow of Silence, and food and toy drives. Collectively, this small school of Junior Kindergarteners to Grade 8′s has raised over $10,000 dollars to support a Free The Children school overseas and has donated a huge quantity of food and toys to local charities. Their hard work has not only benefitted their community and communities overseas, but it’s also earned them tickets to We Day.
Perhaps even more important is the impact We Day and involvement in the We Schools in Action program has on students and educators. In 2011 Mission Measurement conducted a survey of both teachers and students attending a We Day event. The report found:
- 85% of students report having gained knowledgeabout a social justice issue
- 79% of teachers feel a renewed sense of purpose as an educator
- 85% of educators said that they developed relationships with students that they would not have otherwise
- 76% of students are now more self-confident
- 81% believe more strongly that they have a responsibility to address social justice issues
The impact We Day has on students and teachers is profound. What’s even greater is the impact We Day and the We Schools in Action program has on individual communities around the world. From small local food banks in rural Ontario to girls’ schools in Kenya; students, teachers, and countless others can attest that We Day inspires change.