More than 16,000 students and teachers who represent almost 800 Manitoba schools gathered for WE Day at the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg, on Nov. 18, 2016. WE Day is where young people gather to guide the world.
With a lineup of incredibly motivating speakers and music, Craig and Marc Kielburger’s WE Day events and international charitable efforts have created a movement for youth to follow.
Starting out 21 years ago as the charity, “Free the Children”, Craig described the shift in brand to a global movement simply called WE.
The goal, as explained in a WE Day info kit, is “to inspire this generation to shift from me thinking to we acting, building a better world where everyone has the power to speak out and make choices that have a positive impact,” .
Students can’t buy a WE Day ticket, they have to earn it through the WE School program, by taking action on one local and one global cause. WE Day is a reward for the participating students, who are invited to attend this celebratory event.
Across Manitoba during the 2015/2016 school year, students and educators created social change, with students volunteering almost 250,000 hours, collecting 83,000 pounds of food for local food banks, and running bake sales to raise funds for local and global programs.
There are 15 WE Day events planned to take place in Canada, the US. and the UK this year, attended annually by 200,000 students from more than 10,000 schools.
WE Day Winnipeg began with a soothing Aboriginal prayer delivered by Linda Blomm, with a message of hope for true and lasting change.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister welcomed the crowd and presented a humbling, personal tale about how he grew up poor and had to hitchhike to university. His mother desperately wanted to help him, but he declined saying his siblings would need it more than he did.
His conclusion, “Make this world a better place than you found it.”
Spelling out the shift from, “ME to WE,” the candid Kielburger brothers armed the audience with examples of leaders in social change like Mahatma Gandhi and our own local hero, Nelly McClung, adding, “Now you are leading change.”
The capacity crowd, all wearing blue rafiki bracelets – WE sells various coloured bracelets with proceeds going to support different charitable efforts – were treated to performances from Jully Black, Jillea, Tyler Shaw and Nico & Vinz. Lights, colour, noise and random acts of dance penetrated the positive atmosphere.
First, bigger than life motivational speaker Spencer West, who has no legs and who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands, spoke about honouring the schools and educators in Manitoba who inspire others to surmount obstacles they face by lifting each other up.
Then, Syrian refugee, Hani Al Moulia spoke about the horrors in his hometown of Homs. He showed his own photos of the bombed out street he lived on, saying he just wanted to go to school, but instead of going to a campus, he ended up at a camp.
Hani, who is legally blind, learned the skills to become a photographer, and he captured poignant images of life in a refugee camp.
“I don’t let obstacles stop me. I just go around them,” he said to a rousing cheer.
Paula Abdul shared how when she couldn’t afford dance lessons as a child, she didn’t let that stop her.
The instructor asked her what she could do? She offered to clean the floors, the mirrors, the bathroom in exchange for lessons.
Her determination helped her become a cheerleader for the LA Lakers, a choreographer for the Jackson’s and a TV star, both as a talented performer and judge.
“There’s always an elegant solution” to keep your passion, she said.
When actor Kyle Nobess confided he was trapped as a teen with addictions to alcohol and cocaine, the arena was silent. Now that he has been sober for a decade, he stated, “We all struggle in life. Just know – you are not alone.”
This was echoed by everyone on stage. A sweet, cyber-bullied, school girl wrote on Facebook, “I am so much more,” and “What people say does not define you as a person.”
Capri, a tiny, singing, youth ambassador loudly announced, “Each of you has a talent,” and, “Girls can do everything that boys can.”
A pair who traveled to the Dominican Republic said they learned about leadership by carrying water at least five times a day and eating grubs in Ecuador. Tracie Leost and Tim Hague – teen athletes who attended the Indigenous Games and Amazing Race Canada respectively, both spoke of taking chances and believing in yourself.
When Tracie wanted to do something meaningful for the mounting numbers of missing and murdered women and girls, she did what she was good at and ran 115 km in four days to raise money and awareness.
“Caring is cool. Taking action is even cooler,” said Tracie.
Tim showed a photo of himself and his Dad who has Parkinson’s disease. He said they hardly stood a chance with 10,000 teams trying out for the Amazing Race Canada, but they succeeded and went on to be the first two Canadians to cross the finish line.
A lovely lady in pink stood sweetly on stage saying she battles bi-polar disorder. Margaret Trudeau, former Canadian First Lady and mother to the current Prime Minister, talked about mental wellness.
Trudeau, who has always been a leader in her own right working tirelessly to better Canada and the world, made a strong statement for understanding and mitigating mental health factors. She advocated for a great night’s sleep.
“Nourish your beautiful body, your beautiful mind. Eat kale!” she said.
Having worked in Africa, giving families clean drinking water, she cannot forget that while her family with seven grandchildren eat well, they would say so honestly, “Our children are dying.”
Mike Downie addressed Canada’s need to reconcile what happened at residential schools when 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families. As big brother to the Tragically Hip singer, Gord Downie, Mike stood with Chanie Wenjack’s mother as she sang a haunting Anishinaabe song of loss.
Mike attested to the fact that without parents, purpose and self-love, 12 year old Chanie ran away, only to die of exposure on the railway tracks.
Rick Hansen shared how he recruited Terry Fox to join his wheelchair basketball team since they were both motivated to be ‘men in motion.’ After a car accident at 15 crushed his spine, Rick said he was told not to expect too much out of life.
One man showed him he could still be active as an athlete. To date, Rick has been a Paralympian and he has raised $26 million on his World Tour. “Be a barrier-buster,” he shouted.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s dream began with a poster of the moon over his bed. Now that he’s orbited the Earth 2,650 times, his view has changed. You can’t see our differences from up there; what you gain is perspective, he said.
“We are one unified world,” said Hadfield. “You can make a massive difference down here.”