This summer I interned at the head quarters of Free the Children and their associate organizations. Free the Children is an organization started in Toronto by a 12-year old, named Craig Keilburger, who read an article with the headline: Battled Child Labor, Boy, 12, Murdered. The story was about Iqbal Masih, a former child slave who had traveled around the world speaking out against his former captors. When he returned to his home in Pakistan, Iqbal was murdered. That day, Craig went to his 7th grade class, stood up and said “I don’t know much about child labor, but I want to know more. Who’s with me?” 11 kids raised their hands, and that was the start of Free the Children. Craig and his friends began to meet in Craig’s house to learn about the issue of child labor. As they gained more and more information, they began to speak in classrooms and conference halls, in front of students, labor unions, and government officials. Their biggest grant came from the Ontario Federation of Labor who pledged $150,000. This enabled the organization to run for a number of years. But now, 18 years later, Free the Children is now a world-wide organization. They now have events called WeDays throughout Canada, the United States, and the UK. A WeDay is a large scale event to honor world changers. 20,000 students who have done both a local service action and a global service action get to go to this event to be inspired! I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer at one of these events on September 20th in Toronto.
My job at We Day Toronto was to be a “Crowd Pumper” which means that it was up to the 500 of us to set the tone for the event, so we were supposed to wildly cheer at everything. This idea is perfectly summarized by this instruction from our cheat sheet: “On Your Feet! GO BANANAS!”. I was lucky that my group was assigned to the floor of the event space, and even more lucky in that there was an open seat that was 5 rows from the stage. This meant that over the course of the event I was standing 1 bodyguard away from Demi Lavato, got a high five from Scott from mash, and spoke to Jacob Artist from Glee.
Walking into the giant stadium for the first time was awe-inspiring. I had never been in a stadium that big (25,000 seats) and it looked so big!!! On every seat there was bag with items from sponsors: sun glasses, refillable water bottles, and, my favorite, impact bracelets that, when you clapped your hands, would light up.
Looking back over the event, the one speaker who stands out the most in my mind is the Canadian Astronaut, Chris Hadfield, who was the first Canadian to walk in space and the first Canadian to command the International Space Station. One highlight from his speech was when, to give us a sense of what the landscape of space looks like, the lights were turned off and we were told to clap our hands. As I turned around, looking at the sea of lights, 20,000 of them, I was struck by the shear enormity of what this represented. Every single light represented a person committed to making a change. As Craig put it, “we are the generation that we have been waiting for.” Every single person in that room knew that they could change the world, that is 20,000 world changers. If you look at Martin Luther King Jr., you can see how much one person can do, not by himself though, every great leader needs just as great followers, and those people in that room are going to be world changers. As Martin Luther King III, the older son of Martin Luther King Jr., had everyone in the room chant, “I believe… All across our nation and the world… We… Are gonna be… a great generation.” With a room filled with people like that, as Chris Hadfield said, “The sky is NOT the limit.” Everyone in that room, and everyone reading this, has the potential, no, the obligation, to change the world!!!!
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