Free The Children’s We Day is more than just one day of celebration and inspiration. It’s a one-of-a-kind event and part of an innovative year-long program created to celebrate the power of young people to create positive change in the world.The event kicks off a year-long program of action, called We Schools in Action. We Day is free of charge and open to any school that wants to be part of the experience. In exchange, each school group that attends is asked to make a commitment to follow the We Schools in Action program, which includes taking local and global action throughout the year.Since 2007, youth from across North America have come together to discover the passion they have in common, to celebrate their successes, to become aware of new challenges, and to build lasting friendships. The We Day events feature speeches and performances from global leaders and social activists, cultural icons and entertainers.
Free the Children was founded in 1995 by (then 12 year old) Craig Kielburger. Kielburger had read a story in the paper about a boy named Iqbal Masih, who had been sold into slavery at age four and spent six years of his life chained to a carpet-weaving loom. Somehow this boy found a way to speak out. Iqbal lost his own life defending children's rights, but in raising his voice, he inspired others to take action. From the website:
Craig gathered together a small group of his Grade 7 classmates from his Thornhill, Ontario, school and Free The Children was born. Free the children from poverty. Free the children from exploitation. Free the children from the notion that they are powerless to affect change. These were the messages that fuelled Craig's mission. The idea was a good one. And it caught on. Today, Free the Children is the world's largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million youth involved in our innovative education and development programs in 45 countries.
I first heard of Kielburger a few years ago through my church's participation in his Operation School Bag. Church members were asked to fill a school bag with specific items, which bags were distributed to students in empoverished countries, who would otherwise be without school supplies.
The We Day 2010 event included many speakers, including Al Gore, Craig and Marc Kielburger, Martin Sheen and Jesse Jackson, as well as musical performers such as Barenaked Ladies, Colbie Caillat, Hedley, Greyson Chance and K'naan. What an uplifting show! I found these words by Jesse Jackson particularly powerful and thought provoking:
It is often said you are our future. I do not accept that premise. You are our right now. You are right now. Whether you choose dope or hope, you are right now. You must do the right thing right now.
To me, that call to action in the here and now feels far more empowering than telling our youth they are the future. It occurs to me that perhaps speaking of our youth always in terms of the future is diminishing. Are we blinded to their dedication, passion and ability to make a difference now if we are always thinking of them as being the change agents of the future? I witness the amazing ways in which our youth speak out and stand up for what is right...and I think we have as much to learn from them as they do from us.
The We Day show ended with a performance of Wavin' Flag by K'naan. Apparently at the Toronto event, the youth began chanting the words to this song at 8:30 am and didn't stop until K'naan took the stage five hours later!