I have just returned from my first We Day.
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.
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.