Children First Canada was officially launched today and I am so honoured to be a Youth Ambassador for this new initiative. It is a new organization to watch and while the statistics we discussed today are alarming, I feel so good about the work ahead of us. We live in a country that people call the best place to grow up in. We have a great country. For the most part. Did you know that out of 29 nations ranked in a study for children’s wellbeing, Canada ranks 17th? Or that Toronto is the number 1 city in North America for child poverty? Clearly, the kids are not alright. Children First Canada is here and ready to help. They want to look at the big issues – poverty, hunger, health and mental health, to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.
Children First Canada is founded by Sara Austin. Her earliest childhood memories are about compassion. She has spent the last 20 years engaged in children’s issues and children’s rights with organizations including Children’s Aid Society and the United Nations. She even brought the law to the United Nations that youth could speak out to government if there was an issue, so that they couldn’t be denied their voice. One year ago, she turned all of her attention and energy to what is holding children back in Canada. Sara’s vision and mission for Children First Canada is to make Canada the best place for kids – all kids – to grow up.
Today was the public launch of Children First Canada at a luncheon filled with people and organizations who are ready with their support. I had the opportunity to address the room. My full speech is below:
One of the most important things that a person can do is to take the time to sit down and reflect and take a good, open-minded look at their path – past, present and future.
I’m going to take a moment and share some of my recent reflections with you. Looking back at my path, my journey as a change-maker has been organic and filled with learnings and experiences that shape who I am today and most certainly will direct my future.
Four years ago I found my community with Free The Children and I began to learn about other issues that were affecting my peers in other parts of the world – not having access to clean water was holding girls back from getting an education.
While I was on tour with WE Day, I had the opportunity to speak at the Celebration Dinner the night before every WE Day. In a room filled with stakeholders and partners I shared these words:
I am lucky – we all are – to have been born in Canada where my family and I are safe and healthy. To live in Canada means that I get to go to school. Had I been born in Kenya, India or Haiti, instead of being in school, I’d spend my days walking for miles to collect water or helping my family with daily chores – just to live. In Canada we are lucky because for most of us we get to be concerned about living well. In other places the biggest concern is simply living.
Reflecting back on those words, I can tell you that I still believe them to be true. Well, mostly true. Standing here today, with three years of learning and experiences behind me, I can tell you this:
I am lucky to live in Canada AND I am specifically lucky to have been born into my family and community. Not all of my peers in Canada have this same good fortune that I do.
One in six Canadian children live in poverty
One in four of aboriginal children live in poverty
More than one in three people requiring food assistance are children
One in five Canadian kids have considered committing suicide.
When I made that speech, I continued to say that with this luck – my luck – comes the need to act – the responsibility to act. We are here today because we believe this to be true. And that is where my reflection about the future takes me and I hope that you are all with me on this.
Just after the US Election last week, I was featured in an Associated Press article along with 10 other young women called “Dear Candidates, Here’s what girls and young women think...”
The article was published in hundreds of print and online publications. As a seasoned blogger, I know not to take comments to heart.
But here are a few of the that stood out to me:
’Kids’ do not really understand or care what is REALLY going on in the world. There is a reason you become an adult at the age of 18 and that is the minimum age you must be to vote.”
“You can’t tell me these children really have a grasp or clue about how the world really functions.”
“Who cares – most of them are too young to vote.”
I wish that I could say that I was totally shocked when I read these comments. Truth is, I’ve heard it all before. But I know better than to believe them. I know this because from the WE Day stage I have addressed more than 400, 000 youth and I have travelled across Canada to meet so many of them – most are too young to vote, but not too young to care or understand. AND I can assure you they are not too young to make a difference.
I stood on that stage empowered by them. I stood on that stage empowered by my role-models who changed the world long before they could vote – Craig Kielburger, Severn Suzuki, Malala Yousafzai.
I stand here before you today, inspired by each of them and Sarah Austin, fuelled by her passion to put Children First in Canada.
My journey as a young activist is motivated by a quote, that I want to leave you with in hopes that it will inspire you too.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
For all of our Canadian children, who want to go far, let’s go together.
Want to make an impact? Children First Canada has three ways you can make a difference. The first is raising your hand. This implies having a deeper understanding and volunteering with organizations that invest in kids – children’s hospitals, charities and schools. You can also raise your voice. This is something I strongly believe in. Start a conversation about children’s wellbeing whenever are wherever you can – your school, your workplace and community. Take a look at the report released today and consider what those numbers mean now and for the future. The third is raising funds. Invest you own charitable dollars in organizations that help children and inspire others to invest in kids. Check out more information on how you can get involved here.
Our voices matter – whether we can vote or not. This is our world and our future. Let’s work together to make it true to say that Canada is the best place in the world to grow up and be what and who you want to be.