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Students begin locally to make change
Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
A group of students at Fulton secondary school are taking that message to heart. After attending We Day in Vancouver, Jaskaran Gakhal and Rebecca Rudnisky came home ready to do their part. They began by forming the Me to We Club.
“We wanted to have others be inspired by the message we got, which is to change me to we,” said Rudnisky. “To make both local and global changes.
“Teenagers have such a strong power, it’s so easy for us to have a domino effet because we have the entire student body here.”
We Day is an initiative of Free The Children, an international charity and educational partner that works with schools to implement the We Act program. Free The Children believes in a world where all young people are free to achieve their fullest potential as agents of change. It works to empower youth to remove barriers that prevent them from being active local and global citizens.
“We Day was such an amazing experience,” said Gakhal. “If you are a quiet person, like I am, you will take a piece of it away with you — I would never have stepped up like this before, but it has made me more confident and now I want to step up and do what I can.”
The Grade 11 students were two of a group taken to the annual conference in October by school vice-principal Melanie Jorgensen.
“We took 19 students from Fulton and this was a lot of firsts for a lot of kids, for them to be able to know that it only takes one person to make a difference, that a waterfall starts with a single drop of rain,” said Jorgensen. “They learned to take ownership of what they are doing and to carry through with positive social action.
“And while we facilitate, it’s the students who do the work. This is my 31st year in education and it always amazes me how much the students want to give back — they really took away the message of how important it is to give back to the less fortunate.”
Free the Children’s Adopt a Village model is based on five core pillars: Education; Clean Water and Sanitation; Health; Alternative Income and Livelihood; Agriculture and Food Security.
Gakhal and Rudnisky decided the best way to start is with a penny drive at school, with all proceeds going to Sierra Leone, to implement clean water programs.
“I learned that by starting out small we can make a big difference,” said Gakhal. “We decided to do a penny drive because we know that there are so many pennies around so this was something we could do — this is a good first project for us.”
In the school’s foyer, the students have set up empty water bottles, one for each grade, as well as one for staff.
“We wanted to start off with something that would be successful,” said Rudnisky. “We looked at a lot of countries that we could help, but there are some that seem to get a lot of help, like Kenya, and we don’t hear as much about Sierra Leone.
“One of our members did some research and found out how much clean water they need — there is a lot of illness and disease there as a result of unclean water.”
Both students said learning about the challenges of finding clean water in other parts of the world has made them appreciate the ease with which water is accessed in this part of the world.
Fulton’s aboriginal students also took part in We Day. For Braden Crane, it was a chance to attend his first concert, which included performances by Demi Lovato and One Republic.
“It’s made me want to try to change myself to help other people and try to be more social and in tune with others on how they want themselves and the world to be,” he said. “I would like to teach those in the community about residential school and what aboriginal people went through and how this has affected communities for generations.”
Fulton aboriginal support worker Jody Dargatz said taking students to We Day was also a moving experience for the staff.
“To see the students be excited and inspired is what we strive for,” she said.
Jaiden Oakley said while seeing Australian pop star Cody Simpson was pretty good, she was particularly inspired by hearing the stories of We Day speakers such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, basketball legend Magic Johnson and Free the Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger.
“One speaker spoke about her experiences being bullied at school and this brought back my own memories of being bullied,” she said. “I felt a connection to her and it was good to hear that others go through the same things as me.
“Her speech inspired me to help other students who are being bullied and to be more aware of it in my school and life.”
Next up for Jaiden is volunteering her time at the Upper Room Mission as well as finding a way of thanking and recognizing those in the community who give their time, thoughts and hearts to those in need.
Meanwhile, anyone who has spare change they’d like to contribute to the penny drive is welcome to bring it to the school office. And the grade that brings in the most pennies earns a pancake breakfast cooked up by members of the Me to We Club, which currently has about 10 members from Grades 8 to 12 and welcomes new members at any time.