‘We Day’ wows locals

Heather Latter

Local participants and volunteers who took part in the Free the Children’s “We Day” event in Winnipeg last Wednesday were inspired by the speeches and performances offered to the 16,000 youths who attended.
A group of 38 students and four staff members from Fort Frances High School travelled there to take part in the day-long celebration, as did the Riordon family of John, Tammy, and son, Mitchell, who volunteered at the event.
“It was great seeing it in action and being inspired to do more,” enthused student Meghan Metke.
“You felt like you are a part of something bigger,” echoed fellow student Natalie Hyatt.
“And we learned that age does not matter when it comes to solving global issues because it’s how much passion each person has inside themselves to do something truly special,” added Cynthia Hudson.
Teacher Shannon Westover said the event was amazing.
“The message the speakers shared with us really opened your eyes that one person can make a difference if they choose, and achieve the impossible,” she remarked.
For Tammy Riordon, meanwhile, it was “one of the best experiences of [her] life.”
“Everyone was there for the same reason, which was youth inspiring youth,” she explained, noting it was something she wanted her 13-year-old to experience as he is very passionate about helping to make a difference.
“We Day” ignites a year-long program called “We Schools in Action,” and similar events take place in other cities across Canada.
Students then can bring that energy back home to take action on local and international issues all year.
Fort High student Shai Loyie said there was a great atmosphere at “We Day.”
“It was really positive the minute we stepped off the bus,” she recalled. “People were screaming, getting us pumped up and giving high-fives.”
“It felt really good to experience it,” added Ben Tysz, noting it was such a huge event with twice the population of Fort Frances all in one room—and all of them youths.
Many of the teens credited fellow student Dexter Fichuk, leader of “The Mob/Saving Faces” group at Fort High, with inspiring them to attend the Winnipeg event in the first place.
“He has motivated a lot of people,” stressed Loyie.
“I think it’s doing what’s right,” reasoned Fichuk. “It hasn’t seemed like work—it’s been fun.”
The students said the “We Day” event, and being with so many other students who share similar ideals, was the boost they needed.
Not only is “The Mob/Saving Faces” group involved in a number of Free the Children campaigns, such as “Hallowe’en for Hunger,” “Brick by Brick,” and the “Vow of Silence” (which is taking place today), they are motivated more than ever to make the community—and world—a better place.
And they want to start with Fort High.
“We want to get more people involved, and I believe the school will slowly become a better place,” said Metke, adding it also was good to see what other schools have been doing and what they strive for.
“Being in a small town, you seldom can take advantage of such an opportunity so this was very special,” agreed Hudson.
“We learned so much from these powerful speakers, who showed us even against all odds anything is possible because this is the generation the world has been waiting for.”
Some big names were involved in “We Day” at Winnipeg, such as Mia Farrow, Al Gore, Paul Martin, and the cast of “Degrassi,” as well as musical guests Hedley, Shawn Desman, Down With Webster, Neverest, and Sierra Noble.
But for Fichuk, the highlight was making it on stage twice. “It was just so much fun,” he enthused.
And while Metke noted the speeches encompassed a wide range of issues, including environmental and First Nations’ ones, they all focused on the same concept, which was to get involved and try to change things for the better.
One of presentations the students and Riordon said was the most moving was by Michel Chikwanine, a former child soldier who has endured and overcome unimaginable pain and struggles.
Holding up cards, he told his story without speaking—and the MTS Centre was completely silent.
“He really inspires me, how far he’s come,” said Tysz, who had met Chikwanine at a camp earlier this year.
“It reminds you there are youth out there dealing with all the things we are trying to stop,” he remarked.
“It’s happening to actual people—and happening everywhere,” Hyatt stressed.
And although there were many touching moments during “We Day,” Riordon had to keep up her energy since her volunteer job was as a “crowd pumper.”
“I had to ensure my section was having a fun time—that the enthusiasm and energy continued for the entire five hours,” she explained, noting she had to clap, cheer, wave her arms, and even teach the “We Day” dance.
Meanwhile, her husband and son were “seat fillers,” and also helped fill 16,000 gift bags.
They went through five hours of training while Riordon had a four-hour training session. She admitted it was a lot of work, but certainly worth it.
Most importantly, she was encouraged by the message promoted throughout the event.
“It doesn’t matter if you are feeding the Winnipeg homeless, your own community, or building a school in Kenya—it’s empowering youth and for us to make a change. And you can in some small way,” Riordon stressed.
“They want you to find your passion . . . in order to make the difference, make the change.”
While it was the first “We Day” event in Winnipeg, Riordon is hoping it becomes an annual event and certainly would go again.
“It was the event of a lifetime,” she remarked.