Folks in Kamloops may notice a surge of kids doing good deeds around the community in the coming weeks and months, and if you take a moment to ask, they’ll probably tell you they were inspired by We Day.
“The whole thing makes you so happy and motivated to leave there and do something for your town,” said 17-year-old Valleyview secondary student Tiana Piva.
On Thursday, more than 650 Kamloops students from 31 schools stepped onto 13 buses to attend the 22,000-student strong gathering at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
We Day uses empowering music and speeches to inspire youth to become active global citizens, showing them how to become part of a movement of social change.
It used to be that teenagers would lose it over rock stars. But today’s rock stars are activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“(Rev. Jackson) got everybody to say, ‘Everybody is somebody’ and repeat it over and over,” said 16-year-old Valleyview student Victoria Ross. “It was amazing how everyone in the crowd said it, so many voices.”
Also on that list of superstars are brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.
From Thornhill, Ont., the Kielburgers were only 12 years old in 1982 when they travelled to Third World countries to meet children even younger than they who had been forced into labour.
They returned determined to lobby politicians and affect change and in 1995, founded the Free the Children international charity.
We Day was hosted by the Kielburger brothers and it has made Ross want to follow their lead.
“Nobody thought that they could do it, but they overcame and they did it and they were so young,” she said.
Travelling to the Third World to help impoverished kids and families is now almost a rite of passage after the launch of the Me to We movement, which has swept through schools around Kamloops and throughout the world.
Students are now eagerly absorbing inspiration and guidance to change the world.
Sixteen-year-old Chanel Ledger could hardly contain her excitement over hearing We Day speaker Spencer West, who shared the struggles he overcame after losing his legs at the age of five.
“He talks to about bullying and how to overcome it,” she said. “So things he and everybody talks about are things that you can put toward your life and help other people, too.”
The Me to We movement is intrinsic to the leadership classes taught in secondary and elementary schools throughout the city. And they’ve led to innumerable charitable endeavours from food drives for Kamloops families to building schools for kids in the Dominican Republic.
It’s a far cry from teens’ global awareness a generation ago, said leadership class teacher Carla Salituro.
“It broadens the students’ horizons. And they want to help people. And isn’t that being a great human, to go out and help someone else instead of being me, me, me focused?”
Salituro has been to several We Day events and says the energy it generates among her leadership students is undeniable.
“They want to help overseas, they want to help in their community, they want to help in their schools. It just perks them right up. They want to be involved in everything,” she said.
That energy translates into charitable activities that the students themselves propose, organize and carry out. The fact that the initiatives are student-led generates “buy-in” among the rest of the school’s students, said Salituro.
And as students’ levels of compassion increase, incidents of bullying decrease, which is an issue to which teenagers are highly attuned.
High school students throughout Kamloops are talking about what happened to Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old Coquitlam student who committed suicide on Oct. 10 a few weeks after posting a video on YouTube describing years of torment from peers and an online predator.
The incident boggled the minds of Valleyview leadership class students who couldn’t fathom the bullies’ ability to be so cruel.
“I don’t know how people can do something like that and not have a conscience about it,” said Ross. “It’s like they’re not completely right or something. I would think someone who is saying extremely hurtful things would have some guilt. But they just had nothing. Like emotionless.”
Ross even extends that compassion to the bullies themselves after the online community turned their anger for Todd’s death into vitriol and threats against her tormenters.
“It contradicts itself,” said Ross. “We should be aware of the whole situation and we can get the authorities involved but our pain should be unbiased, neutral. More supporting Amanda than bashing people that were mean to her.”
Compassion, global awareness and belief that one person’s actions can improve the world — lessons of the Me to We movement — carry on far longer than a handful of high school years.
“I feel like once you get into (humanitarian work) it just gets normal and into your routine,” said Ledger.
The lessons may even form career paths as exemplified by Ross, who has political and humanitarian aspirations, and Piva, a future humanitarian entrepreneur.
“I’ve always wanted to make a business that gave back, that had some sort of change in the world,” she said. “That’s always been my goal since I was very little.”
Tutu has an explanation for young people’s enthusiasm when it comes to helping the suffering as well as for the surprise that optimism generates among adults.
"Young people think that the world can be better. Haven't they said, ‘Let us make poverty history?’ It’s we oldies who get to be cynical," he told the crowd at Rogers Arena this week. "Young people are idealistic. They dream God’s dreams."