The hallways of a south Winnipeg school were echoing with African rhythms Monday morning as students at Vincent Massey Collegiate were given a sneak peek at what We Day Manitoba will look and sound like this Wednesday at the MTS Centre.
The Kenyan Boys Choir, one of the featured acts at We Day Manitoba 2013, performed a handful of tunes in front of a jam-packed gymnasium Monday morning, lending their trademark African style to a five-song playlist that featured three traditional songs and infectious covers of Nelly Furtado's Spirit Indestructible and Bob Marley's One Love.
The We Day preview also featured a video greeting from event co-founder Marc Kielburger, recorded at a Kenyan school supported by the high school's efforts for Free the Children, and a brief address by 17-year-old Vincent Massey senior Madeleine Arbuckle, who will take the stage in front of 16,000 of her student-aged peers on Wednesday at the MTS Centre.
Arbuckle, a Grade 12 student, attended Manitoba's first We Day in 2011 and was inspired to become involved as a volunteer. Earlier this year, she travelled to Kenya with several other Vincent Massey students and teachers to help build the foundation of an all-girls' school, and came away with the feeling she had accomplished much more than the physical construction in which she participated.
"I felt I was bringing the right to education a little bit closer to the children of Kenya," she told the student assembly.
She said she's overwhelmed by the opportunity to bring the We Day message to such a large crowd on Wednesday.
Vincent Massey is one of more than 380 schools taking part in Manitoba's We Day festivities on Wednesday. The event's roster of speakers includes actor and activist Martin Sheen, human rights advocate Martin Luther King III, bestselling author Amanda Lindhout (A House in the Sky) and We Day/Free the Children co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger.
Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz will also address the We Day crowd.
Vincent Massey principal Ian Riffel said involvement in We Day and the Free the Children charity has been a life-changing experience for many of the school's students.
"I would connect this immediately to the fact we're a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) school," he explained. "We're committed to providing young people with a set of experiences that invite them to act both locally and globally. That fits nicely with the Kielburgers' Free the Children and We Day message, which has developed into a longer-standing relationship.
"Last year we went to Kenya and joined that initiative, and now we're continuing to expand our efforts." (Vincent Massey will send students to Kenya and Peru in 2015).
Riffel accompanied his students and staff on the trip to Kenya, and it had a profound impact on his outlook.
"It absolutely changed my life, and I guarantee it changed the lives of the kids and the teachers who went, as well," he said.
"When you're in Kenya, you very quickly observe that these people have, despite very adverse conditions, a great joy in life. That was certainly one of the most challenging aspects of the trip for the kids, and I think the message it gives is a keen sense of living gratefully."
The goal of We Day events across Canada is to inspire young people to take action. In keeping with that agenda, students can't buy a ticket to the event; tickets must be earned by students by making a commitment to take action on at least one local and one global initiative.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradOswald