It only takes one person to make a change, a difference in the world, to take a step or even create an entire movement.
On October 6th, 2009, at about 8:30 AM, over 15 000 youth streamed in from all across the GTA and Toronto to get to the Air Canada Centre for what has become one of the most awaited yearly events in the city…Free the Children’s ME to WE day.
Described as a rock concert for social change, the true stars in this show were not singers, dancers or musicians…they were social activists, Craig and Marc Keilburger, the co-founders of the NGO Free the Children.
Craig started the organization back in 1995 when he was 12 years, after a short but powerful headline caught his eye, “Battled Child Labour, Boy,12, Murdered.” The story was about a boy named Iqbal Masih, who was sold into slavery at four years of age, and then chained to a carpet weaving loom for six years, and how he was murdered because he was trying to speak out about children’s rights.
Young Craig felt the need to do something. So, with the article by his side, Craig went to his school and asked his friends to help him speak up against child labour. From there, Craig started what is now the world’s largest network of children helping children through education. From 11 people being involved, to the over 1 million youth involved today, Free the Children now has programs in 45 countries and is not only inspiring youth all over the world, but making youth realize that believing in change, creating change and inspiring change is very cool.
Now in its third year in Toronto and hosted by etalk’s Ben Mulroney and Tanya Kim ME to WE day was also celebrated in Vancouver and will later be celebrated in Hamilton.
ME to WE day strives to inspire youth to go out and take action. Craig has a strong belief in today’s generation, even stating that he believes that we are generation that will end world hunger. ME to WE day celebrated the power of youth like no other organization has ever dared to before.
The day featured amazing social activist speakers that inspired the thousands of youth in the audience to “be the change!” Guest speakers included Robert Kennedy Jr, Spencer West, Michael “Pinball” Clemens, Louise Kent, Jeff Skoll, Elie Wiesel, Robin Wiszowaty and of course, Craig and Marc Keilburger.
Each speaker noted that they felt inspired to see the number of youth supporting the cause and making a difference and gave their own message about the power that youth hold. Pinball got the crowd riled up and chanting, “I say WE you say DAY”, thrilling the crowd with his enthusiasm, spirit and charm. Spencer West brought tears to many people’s eyes when he told his own story about how he was told he would never be a functioning and active member of society after being born with a genetic disease which caused him to have to have both his legs completely amputated. Robin Wiszowaty shared her experience of living in Kenya with her adopted family, and the love, acceptance and tolerance that she found amongst them.
One message rang clear throughout: It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone and anyone is capable of making some kind of positive change in the world if they set their hearts to it.
Along with the guest speakers, many famous and sought-after artists came to the stage to share their thoughts on activism and social change, along with a song or two. Guest artists included So You Think You Can Dance Canada winner Nico Archambault, Justin Bieber, the cast of Degrassi, Hedley, Louise Kent, Hannah Endicott- Douglass and a surprise performance by the Jonas Brothers, who sang their hits “S.O.S” and “Burning Up.”
After the day ended with Hedley singing “Never too Late”, Justin Bieber, Jacob Hoggard (the lead singer in Hedley) and Craig and Marc Keilburger, headed to Much Music to be interviewed, with fans following not to far behind them.
The end of day left many youth with the realization that whether you’re 12 or 112, it’s “never too late” to make a difference.
ANKITA Kumar-Ratta is a young actress and dancer; she aspires to use her love of the arts for cultural change and social justice. She is Co-Founder of an NGO, “Save the Girls” that campaigns against selective abortion of female fetuses. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.