We Day: Be the Change

Free the Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger invite youth to embrace the magic of We Day 365 days a year. 

By Marc and Craig Kielburger

We Day: Be the Change
Photography by Michael Rajzman
Craig: The question we're most frequently asked by parents is: "How do I get my kids interested in helping others?" Whether you want them to volunteer in their communities, take action for a cause or simply care about something beyond the mall or video games, convincing teenagers to take out their earbuds and put down their cellphones is no easy task. But our answer has always been: "Make it fun."

When we started out, we recommended having a water fight after a car-wash fundraiser or playing a game of soccer after a day at the food bank to reward kids for their good work. But in 2007, we upped the ante. We gathered 8,000 students from across the Toronto region at Ricoh Coliseum for the first We Day. We brought in popular bands to entertain the crowd, while celebrities from far and wide told kids that it's cool to get involved and help others.

Marc: Today, We Day is an international celebration of youths community involvement and a platform for millions of young people to learn about the most pressing social issues of our time. In nine cities across Canada (and others in the U.S. and Europe), students fill stadiums to see their favourite bands and hear some of the planet's most inspiring leaders tell them that they can make a difference in the world.

We Day is not free. Audience members "earn" their tickets by committing to one local and one global service action in support of a cause or charity of their choice. And its not the end of the story: We Day participants have volunteered six million hours and raised $32 million for more than 1,000 causes since 2009. But at the same time, We Day most certainly is fun.

Craig:
We've had some of the biggest stars of our generation on We Day stages: Jennifer Hudson, Demi Lovato, Cody Simpson and even a young Justin Bieber. One year, an excited parent sitting next to me screamed, "Oh my gosh, it's the Jonas Brothers!" And I was personally in heaven watching Sarah McLachlan sing "World on Fire." I will never forget when Susan Mebet, a student from a Free the Children high school in Maasai Mara, Kenya, came to Toronto to thank singer Nelly Furtado for personally funding her boarding school scholarship. That got louder applause than any boy band.

Marc: Then there was the time that His Holiness the Dalai Lama showed up early in Vancouver because he was so keen to be in a room full of 16,000 excited young people. "You are the seed of a better future," he said, imploring those gathered to lead a century of compassion and peace. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told the "future prime ministers and presidents" in attendance to engage in the political system now, and the incredible Mia Farrow encouraged us all to raise our voices for those who have been silenced, like the refugees of Darfur. The overall message heard loud and clear from Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Magic Johnson and Martin Sheen, among many others, was that every young person can make a difference.

Craig: I'm blown away when the parents and teachers at We Day tell me about the actions their kids and students have taken. Amid all the stories about bullying and the criticisms about today's youth being apathetic, We Day proves that Canadians can be proud of our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and neighbourhood kids.

If you and your kids can't make it to We Day in person, you can watch the live telecast online, or on the CTV special broadcast (Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. EST; repeating Nov. 24 at 5 p.m. EST). Relive We Days past in our new book, The Power of We Day (Greystone, $29.95). Or nudge kids who live and breathe social media to join We Day on Facebook with 3.3 million others from around the world (among the largest group for any registered charity). Still, the best way for young people to see We Day is to earn their tickets through a service project or to volunteer at We Day. When thousands of teens shout "We can change the world!" in unison, it's hard not to get interested.

This story was originally titled "Be the Change" in the October 2013 issue.

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This article is featured on 2014 Me to We Awards