Today is #WorldTeachersDay. The day is set aside to honour, celebrate and appreciate the educators in our lives, from our teachers to our Principals, Superintendents, and anyone that has a role in education.
I realized recently that there is one word that has been a catalyst for my journey as a young activist. From the very beginning, that word has been “yes”. In fact, this could be said for many young people as they get started on their own journey to following they passion and taking action. Last month, I had the opportunity to hear Craig Kielburger tell his story to a room filled with families the night before WE Day UN in New York. As he talked about the very early days, I realized that “yes” his catalyst too.
When Craig was 12 years old, he read the newspaper one Saturday morning about a young boy in Pakistan his age, Iqbal Masih. He was sold into child labour when he was just four years old, his parents didn’t understand what he would be doing. He spent six years chained to a carpet weaving loom until one day, he escaped and began to speak about child labour and kids just like him. It became his mission to tell his story so that the world would know. One day, while riding his bike in his hometown, Iqbal was shot and killed.
This was Craig’s first real exposure to the world outside his quiet, suburban life in Thornhill. He started to research child labour, reading everything he could at the library. When he had enough information and was ready, he went to his teacher and asked if he could share what he was learning with the class. His teacher, said “yes”. He said “I don’t know much about child labour, but I know it’s wrong. Who will join me to stop it?” and his classmates said “yes”. That was how WE started, right then and there, in Craig’s grade 7 classroom, because his teacher and classmates said “yes”.
I’ve come to realize that this is really important. “Yes” is really important. “Yes” is a very powerful word.
Yes, I can help you.
Yes, I see you.
Yes, I support you.
Yes, we can.
Like Craig, I have been so fortunate to have had teachers who have said YES. A lot. My activism started when I launched my blog in the summer before grade 4. In the early fall of that year, I learned about WE, then called Free The Children, and was motivated to launch WE Create Change at my school. It was the year that was focused on clean water and when I asked my Principal for her support, she said YES.
That YES led me to get on stage at a school assembly and where I gave my very first speech. Ever. I shared what I was learning about clean water in developing communities and said “Will you help me?” and my classmates said “YES”. My friends, teacher’s and I collected 97, 500 pennies, which provided clean water for 37 people for life. That first campaign helped me realize that I could motivate others and make a positive impact. That’s what happens when teachers say yes, students become empowered. When students are empowered, change happens.
Since that first campaign, I’ve had to ask for help and support more times than I can count. I have become a motivational speaker and travel frequently for events. I am currently on my third WE Day tour across Canada and I just started high school (by the way, it’s awesome). I have always put school first and my teachers know that and that is why they have supported and encouraged me. It is because they all said yes, that I have been able to do what I do.
I am so grateful.
I’d like to end this with a note to my teachers on #WorldTeachersDay,
Thank you for supporting us in clubs and teams where we can express who we are and what we are passionate about. I know that this is an extra commitment and it takes time out of your day. I appreciate that you care so much about your students and school community that you are there for us. Thank you for being available at lunch, after school and breaks for extra help when we need it. You help us succeed and work with us to be the best that we can be. Thank you and thank you again.