Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

comment- We Day October 19, 2013

I have just returned from my first We Day.

We Day 2013 Vancouver

Waiting to enter Rogers Arena: We Day 2013 Vancouver

If you haven’t heard about this amazing event, it’s put on by Free the Children, a non-profit for kids to help other kids, founded by Craig Kielburger when he was just 12 years old.  The concept is that kids want to help others, and that they can gather together and make a difference in the world.

We Day is basically a HUGE pep rally, rewarding schools/groups for their contribution to the cause.  You can’t buy a ticket.  You school earns the opportunity to attend through its fundraising for Free the Children’s many projects around the globe.  20,000 kids and teachers from across BC attend.  It presents a variety of causes that kids can support, a few musicians kids love, a few amazing speakers, and a few corporate messages from the folks who pay the bills.

Attendees were addressed by Kofi Annan, retired head of the United Nations (who was once mistaken for Morgan Freeman while on holiday at Lake Como), Martin Luther King III who has his father’s gift of oratory, and Hon. Romeo Dallaire retired lieutenant-general, author, and senator.  Very impressive.

Attendees were inspired by speakers like Spencer West, a double amputee who climbed Kilimanjaro on his hands, who speaks about overcoming the impossible, and Molly Burke who went blind in her teens and speaks about bullying.  Very inspiring.

The kids were entertained by the Kenyan Boy’s choir, rap group Down with Webster, the band Hedley, and Avril Lavigne.  (Down with Webster seems like a very negative kind of name for an inspirational band, but I’m old and crotchety).

The kids were presented with a variety of causes they could support: education, building schools, rights of women, child anti-slavery, anti-violence, environment,, clean water, anti-bullying.  Leadership students were challenged to bring these causes to the attention of their student bodies, and make a difference by raising money to support various projects through bake sales, something-a-thons, etc.

The kids were pumped.


This was an event filmed for TV and we could see the tele-prompters and timers from our seats.   I was disgusted with the politicians who presented- the mayor of Vancouver went over time by a minute and our premier, Christy Clark, was over by more than 3 minutes.  She just turned away from those double zeros flashing that she was over time and continued rambling away.  It was clear she hadn’t properly prepared. Considering that none of the major speakers went over, it just shows how disrespectful the politicians are of the audience, the promoters, and the event. Very unprofessional and obnoxious. (The aboriginal blessing went over by a minute, too, but you can’t rush sacred ceremony).

I was a little put off by the corporate nature of it all.  The major sponsors- phone company, bank, newspaper- all spoke, included things in the goodie bags that marketed directly to the kids, through apps, etc.  “Pull out your phone and tweet this!” They were encouraged.  “Download this app right now!”

We really must teach our kids that nothing is free, and if you’re not paying, you’re the product being sold.  There was also a lot of waste generated on very cool gizmos and gift bags.  But everyone likes goodie bags, right?  I kind of liked the seed permeated paper leaf that will become a tree if I plant it in my yard…

One student who’d been to the event in the past and had chosen not to attend this time, told me that he wasn’t going this year, because he’d felt like he was inside one of those info-mercials about the starving kids.  He said he wanted to talk to me when I got back to see what I thought.  I think he has a point.

DSCN0782It was a slick, high tech production.  Hearing loss from those not wearing ear plugs was likely.  I couldn’t make out the words of any of the musicians.  But…

Did it motivate kids?  Definitely.

Are they making changes that will bring about good in the world?  Well, hopefully they’ll remember  that their daily decisions make an impact and choose to be kinder to each other and their environment.

They’re kids.  They’re narcissistic and altruistic in the same hand.  It’s hard from them to go from Me to We.

Exposure to the message that they are the future, and that they can seize opportunities to improve their world can’t hurt.

Can it?


16 Responses to “comment- We Day”

  1. Always good to read honest reviews.

  2. emberyn Says:

    I have a hard time balancing these two ideas.
    Was it effective?
    Was it a disgusting display of politics and corporate tainting of good ideas?

    I’d like to believe that even if those kids don’t necessarily *get* it now eventually they’ll look back on what they learned from the event, the good and the poor aspects.

  3. It is all good, we as adults of course look at it with different more skeptical eyes. If the kids get a little out of it and feel a part of something bigger than themselves, even if just for a short while, it is good. They have plenty of time to grow up, let them enjoy it with the more innocent eye, it is still a good cause.

  4. I recently talked to a woman who enables her son to attend the WE Day events. I have to admit that its not my idea of a “good” cause event. Its filler. I know that they do provide students with “once in a lifetime” opportunities to go build needed buildings/health in needy areas around the world – but for a HEFTY fee. Its like mission work, yet with less religiously fueled hype, and equal/more exploitation of the poor and poverty all to further raise the flag for someone’s cause. I wonder, if poor kids are nominated from a school, but they cannot afford to participate, are there scholorships? if so, how many? And who is the targeted youth? My guess: Affluent stand-out youth: youth who already have privilege and possibility. How many youth might benefit from this experience are denied the opportunity because there is a bigger cause (that only kids with money and social capital to raise money) that is being promoted.

    I don’t hate the We Day – I just think that it needs more examination before it is embraced as an “amazing” opportunity. Because its not an equal opportunity – its a gimmick, albeit one that may very well provide a life-changing experience. But for those who can afford it. Lets not confuse its purpose – its not youth development, its “mom, this is so cool, i’m special, they picked me to go help poor people! It only costs $7,000 for me to go”. Its a fundraiser for the Free the Children campaign.

    • You are specifically addressing the EF ‘voluntourism’ tours that connect with Free the Children projects, I presume. Our school district has done one of these. The students were from all economic strata, and a variety of schools. They fund-raised together. I was talking to one of them yesterday on the bus. She’s definitely not from a wealthy family, and it was a very profound opportunity for her.

      I hear you, though. School tours are always expensive, since air is so costly.

      There is definitely a movement across many organizations for people to go on volunteer trips. See the region, but do some community work while you’re there. I suppose our Rotary Club’s dental trip to Equador would be the same thing. We partner with Rotary in Equador, send a team of dentists and others, they work like troopers doing free dental work for indigenous kids. They pay their own way. It’s expensive, but that’s just the cost of travelling with all that gear.

      • This We event, as well as the concerns laid out, is very interesting…my question: does this event or one like it happen here in the US also?

      • Free the Children is a Canadian organization. I have to say, compared to what we see on American TV shows, this is NOTHING like the way American kids are constantly marketed at. We monitor that much more carefully. For 20,000 kids to be exposed to celebrity entertainers and high powered leaders (in the past they’ve had Archbishop Desmond Tuttu, the Dalai Lama, and Jane Goodall) someone has to pay the bills.

        I suppose it’s key that We Day is a separate entity from Free the Children. Free the Children has low overhead (92% of donations goes to the projects) but to create the army of activists requires the corporate promotional arm that is We Day. I am still not sure what I think.

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