WE Day Toronto Celebrates the Power of You, Me and We

WE Day Toronto Celebrates the Power of You, Me and We

By Angela McLean

Youth have the power to change the world and the proof is in the success of Free the Children’s annual WE Day. On October 1, 20,000 students, educators and change makers from over 900 schools made Toronto’s Air Canada Centre their classroom. Together, they celebrated their incredible volunteer efforts over the past year through the WE Schools program and were rewarded with an incredible line-up of celebrities and inspirational speakers to help keep the conversation going. Toronto’s 9th annual WE Day festivities served as a kick-off to the 2015-2016 worldwide WE Day tour and marked the start of Free the Children’s birthday celebrations, considering this is their 20th anniversary.

Demi Lovato took on co-hosting duties at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Angela McLean/Vervegirl

Demi Lovato took on co-hosting duties at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Photo Credit: Angela McLean/Vervegirl

Toronto’s energetic crowd was treated to performances from Hedley, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiesza, Nick Jonas, Hozier, Francesco Yates and Shawn Mendes as well as motivational speeches from Demi Lovato, Nina Dobrev, Spencer West, Free the Children co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger and more. Each performer and speaker had their own story to share, but they all had one message in common: WE are powerful, WE are a movement, and WE WILL change the world.

From start to finish, inspiration filled the room as the hosts, performers and speakers led the crowd through a series of interactive lessons.

Liz Trinnear, one of the WE Day Toronto co-hosts who we know from eTalk and Much, introduced the concept of “imagineering” to students. “We all have these amazing ideas but what’s more awesome is making those dreams become a reality,” she said. “Imagination engineering, or imagineering, is the act of taking your dreams and turning them into reality. I’m an imagineer, and I’d say that you are too.”

Demi Lovato explained that she was initially nervous to speak out about her struggles with mental health – “What would others think? Would they judge me?” Demi was able to overcome these overwhelming fears and share her story, inspiring thousands of people fighting similar battles. “We are better off if we have the confidence to act. Now, I feel more confident than ever,” Demi exclaimed. “I use that energy to focus on my work and my music.” Demi also took on co-hosting duties and welcomed a good friend of hers and of WE Day to the stage – Nick Jonas!

Free the Children ambassador Spencer West took to the stage to shout out several special students in the crowd who had made outstanding efforts to redefine possible. One of these students was 13-year-old Alessio Pellegrino from Vaughan, ON. He told Vervegirl that after attending WE Day in 2014, he was inspired to make a change. In particular, he was drawn to the idea of giving a goat to a family. “A goat for a family in a developing country that is involved in the Adopt a Village program costs $50,” he explained. “The goat provides 16 glasses of clean milk a day to a family. The goat can have babies and when the family sells the baby goats they can make money for themselves. The goats also provide daily nutrients to the family and help them live a sustainable life.” Within two months, Alessio and his classmates raised $7,300 and used the funds to purchase goats. He advises students like himself who have been inspired to take action. “Share your ideas,” he said. “If you have an idea and you really want to do it, don’t hold back.”

Shawn Mendes performs his song "Never Be Alone" with members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra at WE Day Toronto. Photo Credit: Angela McLean/Vervegirl

Shawn Mendes performs his song “Never Be Alone” with members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra at WE Day Toronto. Photo Credit: Angela McLean/Vervegirl

NBA legend and two-time Hall-of-Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a highlight speaker for all the sports fanatics in the crowd. He stressed the importance of working as a team to maximize the impact of your efforts. “I’ve been a part of 5 championship teams with the Lakers,” he said, “but this championship team, the WE Day team, is the BEST team I have ever played on.” He encouraged everyone to invite all of their friends to the team. After all, who wouldn’t want to be on the WE Day team?!

Michael “Pinball” Clemons, a Canadian sports icon and CFL Hall of Famer, delivered one of the most heartwarming moments of the day. “There is no greater gift to someone who is suffering than a big hug,” he suggested. Students responded by hugging their classmates sitting around them. “20,000 people in #Toronto are legit hugging right now,” the WE Day team quickly tweeted. Only at WE Day!

International activists and co-founders of WE Day, Craig and Marc Kielburger, address 20,000 students and educators at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Photo Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press

International activists and co-founders of WE Day, Craig and Marc Kielburger, address 20,000 students and educators at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Photo Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press


Back in the city where WE Day began, Craig and Marc Kielburger had plenty of final advice to share with the Toronto crowd. Craig took the opportunity to show how far Free the Children has come. He said, “20 years ago, I was nervous and I didn’t think we had the power to make a change. Now, 20 years later, I look from this stage and see a generation that knows they have the power to shift this world.” His words resonated with the young crowd who realized that they, too, could be on the WE Day stage in a few years sharing their story with a new generation of change makers.

Kiesza ended the show with a smash performance of her singles “Sound of a Woman” and “Hideaway” that had the whole crowd on their feet. Looking out at the audience, she said, “You are the generation of the future. You’re going to change the world! We are going to change it together!”

With those words, 20,000 people returned to their regular classrooms with a renewed sense of hope and new ideas to continue making a difference.

Don’t miss your chance to relive the magic of WE Day when a television special with highlights from the show airs on MTV Canada Monday, December 7 at 9 p.m. ET.

Stay connected with the WE movement at

Check out Vervegirl’s snaps of the stars arriving at WE Day!

Meet The Water Brothers!

Meet The Water Brothers!

Tyler and Alex Mifflin didn’t start out as The Water Brothers, but a passion for water conservation and backgrounds in film and environmental studies respectively led them to create, host and produce this award-winning eco-adventure documentary series.

Now in its third season on TVO, The Water Brothers follows Alex and Tyler as they explore the world, uncovering the most important water stories of our time. We caught up with the brothers in Toronto to discuss season three and the simple changes Canadians can make to help our planet.

Vervegirl: For those who might not know about the show, tell us a bit about The Water Brothers.

Tyler: Each episode explores and focuses on a different environmental issue related to water, whether it’s our oceans, fresh water resources, access to clean water and sanitation issues, or issues surrounding climate change. We want to take viewers on an adventure and show them how water connects us all, is vital to everything we do and how we can become part of the solution to these issues we face.

VG: You feature Canadian and international issues on the show, what are some examples of the domestic water issues we face?

Photo courtesy of The Water Brothers.

Photo courtesy of The Water Brothers.

Alex: All of the big environmental issues affect us here and plastic pollution is an issue we’ve looked at a lot. We did an episode about bottled water and all of the waste that it creates, with over 65 million plastic bottles going to the City of Toronto’s landfills each year. It’s hundreds of millions of bottles per year around the world.

We also have a lot of communities in Canada that don’t have access to clean water and  sanitation, surprisingly. This most disproportionately affects First Nations communities. One in five First Nations Communities in Canada don’t have access to clean water and sanitation. These are issues we usually think of in other places like Africa or India, but we’re dealing with them here in our own backyard.

VG: In addition to water conservation, are there any other causes that are close to your hearts?

Alex: Social issues like poverty and women’s rights. We did an episode, “No Woman, No Water”, where we went to Kenya and Tanzania to look at the clean water crisis as it applies to East Africa. What became obvious to us is that women in the developing world are tasked with gathering water for their families. When they don’t have reliable access to clean water and sanitation, it’s hours each day these women can’t go to school or get a job. When you build a well or toilet you’re saving women hours and hours each week that they can now spend in school.

Tyler: Proper sanitation is a huge issue [relating to women’s rights]. When girls get their periods they often don’t go to school for the week because there’s a lot of stigma against menstruation. Bringing access to clean water and sanitation actually empowers these women and strengthens the whole community.

VG: You see a lot of ways that society is taking advantage of our resources. Conversely, what are some things we’re doing right? What are positive changes that have been made in the last few years?

Alex: We’ve made huge strides with our marine reserves. It wasn’t that long ago that there was less than one percent of the ocean protected now almost three percent is protected. Every couple of months we see countries competing to establish larger reserves, which is really encouraging. There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that they’re being managed properly, but the fact that they are establishing the reserves is encouraging. We also see signs that where they control fishing we see the fisheries [marine life] come back.

Another sign of progress is the government initiatives to ban microbeads in beauty products. Both the Ontario Liberal party and the national Liberal and NDP party are working on putting together a motion to ban microbeads. This is also happening in the US. But, because of how bans work, it could be three or four years before these products are actually phased out.

Tyler: Generally, youth awareness of environmental issues is increasing which is encouraging. We do a lot of speaking in schools and we’re so impressed with the amount of knowledge that students have compared to 10 years ago when we were in school. How much more people are educated and becoming aware of these issues and engaged in the solution. It’s encouraging to see that general knowledge base and that the students care.

Catch The Water Brothers Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. EST on TVO or watch episodes online at Stay up to date on Alex and Tyler’s latest adventures on Twitter @thewaterbros or on Facebook.

Ontario SPCA – Friends for Life Walk

Ontario SPCA – Friends for Life Walk

1.)  Daisy, tell us how you first came to know about the OSPCA?  — The Ontario SPCA was called in to assist with a Police investigation after I was found in very bad shape, living in a garage with no light, food or clean water.


2.)  How did they help you?That very day I was removed from my home and brought to the Provincial Education and Animal Centre where I was thoroughly examined by a very nice veterinarian, let me tell you she defiantly gave me a very thorough check up! I was told by the nice vet that I would have to pay a visit to the dentist, my mouth was in very bad shape after years of neglect and they would also have me spayed. Thank goodness I don’t need any babies at my age!


3.)  What do you think would have happened to you if someone hadn’t called the OSPCA to help you?If the Ontario SPCA did not rescue me that day and get me the medical care I required I don’t think I would be standing here today doing this interview. I would have gotten very ill due to infection and lack of care and lived out my remaining time in pain. For their help I will be forever grateful. They saved my life.

4.)  Tell us about the Friends for Life! Walk-a-thon OSPCA is hosting on May 25th, 2013 –  YIPPPEEEEEE I am sooo excited for this event!!! I am the spokes animal!!!!! Can you believe it?? Little old me!! Ok, ok I’ll calm down and tell you the details, The Ontario SPCA Friends for Life!™ walk-a-thon is a provincial program of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals designed to raise funds and awareness for the protection and care of all animals in Ontario just like me. Come join me May 25th in Toronto at Coronation Park. Don’t forget to register now and start collecting donations to help other animals in need like myself get the care they deserve.

5.)  What’s happening on May 26th? –  The Friends for Life! walk a thon is a province wide event so other communities have their walks on the 26th. Check our website to get all the details in your community.

6.)  How did you become the spokesanimal for the Walkathon?  I made a very special friend at the OSPCA, Inspector Harrison, he brought me in, stuck with me through my recovery. We are now BFF’s and because of my ordeal and what he deals with daily, he thought that my story should be told as an example of just one of the success stories made possible every day by the efforts of the staff, volunteers and supporters of the Ontario SPCA.  

7.)  How can teenagers get involved in the walkathon? –  First they need to go online and register and start collecting, everyone can help us reach our goal sooooo easily by getting all their friends and family involved, text em, tweet em, facebook em, individual or make a team, might I suggest “Team Daisy go to

8.)  How will the money that people raise help out the animals at the OSPCA?The money raised will help animals like me in need get the care they need.

9.)  Will you be walking on the 25th?  – WOOF WOOF I will see you at Coronation park in Toronto, I might even sign autographs.

10.) What’s your sign?  – I’m a LEO all the way..  They call me Boss Dog!


You May Only Be One Person !

You May Only Be One Person !

A little girl I met when I was in India.

She is a beautiful girl. She can not speak. I’m not sure if it is because she does not know how or if it is because she has a disability, but I know she can’t. Despite this she loves to sing. Her voice is like music to my ears. She is such a bright child. When I met her she sang me songs, but when she sings it sounds more like a hum.

She is one of the many high lights of the trip.


>> The Image used was taken by myself and edited by myself as well. For more work by me don’t hesitate to visit my site

My Experience in INDIA

My Experience in INDIA

In Grade 7 at 12 years old, Craig Kielburger was the high light of my year. It was at that age that I learned more about activism and I also learned that Craig was 12 when he started taking action in the world. He inspired me. Ever since then it has been my dream to travel to the other side of the world on a social justice mission. In Grade 11 the opportunity arrived when my religion teacher took me to a presentation asking for 10 students from my school to travel to India. I had all my papers signed the next day, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to save the world.

Between May 2012 and January 2013 myself and 9 other students have been fundraising our butts off to further prepare for this trip. On March 1st we hopped on a plane and left the country. I must admit I was very scared. It was my first time travelling to another country with out my parents. But it had to be done, we were on a mission.

After a 14 hour flight we first arrived in India. It felt surreal. My first impression of India was in the state Kerala. Kerala is a beautiful state. In Kerala we met the two families St. Edmund Campion (my school) is sponsoring. It was a long drive up to the mountains where they live. Meeting the families was hard. They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Malayalam, so we had a translator. But that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was looking them in the eyes as they explain to us their financial situation.

The Father in the first family explained about his wife having a tumor and them using their money and loans to pay for her treatments. He also explained that they were working on fixing their house until his wife got pregnant. Now their daughter Jennifer is 2 years old and has an eye problem and needs an eye transplant that they have to pay for. I could see it in his face that he was going to do everything he could for his daughter. He asked us all to write down our names so that he could pray for us every night and thanked us for helping them. I gave them all hugs. That might be the last time I get to meet them face to face. But the connections we all made just from smiling at each other is something I hold closely to my heart.

When we met the second family they took us inside their home and let us have a seat. Their house was very small, about the size of my bedroom and we could barely fit. My first thought was “how fair is it that this woman and her 3 kids and her mother have to live in this small small house?”. But then I realized how grateful they must be to have a roof over their head. The mother explained that she makes 150 rupees a day on her own. In India that is not a lot of money. The house they live in is not theirs, it is owned by a tea plantation. The grandmother of the family works temporarily at this tea plantation so they are allowed to live there. At any moment the tea plantation can let her go and the house will be taken from them. When the mother finished explaining this myself, several students, and the mother herself were all crying. It was in a way emotionally unbearable. I was crying because even though I do not know this family I knew that I did not want them to lose their house, I wanted them in a better situation. They were like family to me in that moment. The mother explained that she prays for us every night and she is so happy and grateful for us.

Just from that moment, from meeting those two families I decided to do what I can to raise money for them. My first goal is to raise money with my school to get the Second family a house. For all I know their house could have been taken from them yesterday or it might be taken from them tomorrow. It is something that keeps me up at night. Overall this trip changes the way I look at the “small” semi detached house I live in. In North America we are so blessed with little yet big luxuries.


The Teresa Group Presents Bingo Palooza Fundraiser.


A fun filled evening including bingo and door prizes, delectable desserts and a silent auction.


Tickets are $30 and proceeds will support vital Teresa Group programs and services assisting children and families with HIV and AIDS.


18+ Event


Doors open at 6:15pm, event starts at 7:00pm


Purchase tickets via telephone or by visiting



WEST Teen Toolbox is a project I started this year at my high school.

WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM?    The project indirectly got started by the volunteer work I do for a local teen shelter.  After organizing a number of drives for the shelter I learned that kids in my own high school could also use some help with the same type of situation.   I decided to start a project to create personal care kits and have the made available at the guidance or teen health centre to be distributed to kids who need them.  What I found out after I met with administration at the school was the need was definitely there and they were keen to help me get started with the project!

HOW DID I GET IT STARTED?  I looked around to see if there was any funding I could access and I was told about something UNB was doing called “Ideas Unlimited”  I sent my idea in and after the judges picked the top ideas – it moved to voting.   I found out about a month or so later that my idea was chosen and I received $1000 towards getting the project up and running!  I then approached Maritime Paper products to create the ‘Tool BOX’ and they were able to create a discreet cardboard box that I could place the items in for distribution.  I was able to contact some local cosmetic reps like L’Oreal Canada and they also donated items.  Our sport teams at school are hosting drives over the winter to keep the items coming in.  I haven’t stopped and I am amazing as donations are showing up on my door step these days from people in the area hearing about the project!  A local teen magazine plans to cover it and I am hoping the exposure not only helps with donations but it gets other students to start something similar in their schools.  The need is not unique to my school.

WHERE DID THE NAME COME FROM?  To be honest – I thought long and hard and then it came in my head that these items were every day items that we all needed – tools so to speak! Toolbox just seemed to be the perfect name!

WHERE ARE WE NOW?  After putting together the first 25 and bringing in them into the school I was amazing at how happy the school was to receive them!  I am now almost completed the next 25.  The hope is to get at least 100 boxes done this year and it looks very achievable!!

WHAT DOES EACH BOX CONTAIN?  Each box is designated Boy or Girl and contains personal care items that are every day to most of us.  Shampoo, conditioner, soap/body wash, tooth brush and toothpaste, deodorant  tampons  razors, shaving creams, make up, etc.   The boxes range in contents and the value per box averages between $25 and $40 depending on contents. Not all boxes contain make up for example.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?  Why not try to set this type of program up and your school.  It sounds like a lot I know but it really came together for me and although we have 25 boxes complete and 25 boxes almost complete – to date all that has been spent is $180 – everything else has been donated.

– Sam

P.S.  A special thank you to the University of New Brunswick (Ideas Unlimited Program) for believing in my idea!!

Smart With  A Heart

Smart With A Heart

By: Jaishree Drepaul

Monday, May 7th started out as just another ordinary day for Laura Sullivan. The 25-year-old Toronto native

woke up and went through her paces to get to her job as an occupational therapist. Little did she know that by noon her life would change with an extraordinary stroke of luck. “I was sitting at my desk and I got an email informing me that I had won the 2012 Canadian smartgirl Challenge,” Laura says. “I couldn’t believe it! I got on the phone right away and told my mother that we’d won.” It was a no-brainer that Laura would call her mom, before sharing the news with anyone else. The contest (sponsored by smartwater Canada and Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl initiative) required entrants to write an essay about a female who inspires them. For Laura, it’s her mom, Patti – an unfailing mentor and source of unconditional love.

Patti had given Laura a lifetime of support and encouragement. And now Laura was about to repay her by taking her along for an adventure of a lifetime: the smartwater smartgirl contest prize was a trip to Tanzania. There they would visit a maternal health clinic supported by Plan Canada and smartwater. Laura had already worked with underprivileged children in Guatemala and Belize, but it would be her first time travelling to Tanzania – and her first mother-daughter travel escapade. “I knew it was going to be an opportunity to make memories together and bond, just the two of us,” Laura says.


By July 6th, Laura was on a plane with her mom, anxious for the 30-hour flight to be over. They arrived in Tanzania in the middle of the night. “I remember that even at midnight there were people everywhere and I was trying to take in as much as I could,” Laura said. She was instantly struck by the amount of chronic illness she witnessed. “I saw someone in a wheelchair made of wood. I immediately realized that the people there are very adaptable. They flourished and were happy, even with the little that they have,” she said. Laura observed this again when she visited the maternal healthclinic several days later. She travelled with representatives from glacéau smartwater and Plan Canada/Because I am aGirl, and television personality Rosey Edeh and her daughter Micha Powell (who are ambassadors for the Because I am a Girl  initiative). When they arrived at the Sangabuye Health Laura was surprised to see that about 150 local communitymembers had gathered to greet them. “They sang and danced for us and had prepared a traditional lunch of rice and beans, potatoes, stewed meat, squash and fish,” she said. “It really moved me to see how kind and appreciative the people were. They would have given us the shirts off their backs if we’d needed them.” After speaking with clinic staff, Laura also got a chance to just walk around and connect with some of the community members one-on-one. “I didn’t know any Swahili at the time. I used a stick to draw pictures in the sand. I was asked to draw things like the sun, an umbrella, clouds, their names,” she remembers. “It was easy to break down the barriers despite not speaking the same language. It was so simple to make them smile.


When talking with Laura about her experience, one can tell from the emotion in her voice that there was no shortage of smiles and happy moments throughout her trip. But there is a hint of sadness heard when she speaks about the most challenging part of her journey: her departure. “I was in Tanzania for about 12 days, but I wish I could have been there for months. I wanted to stay and learn from the c ommunities and from the people,” she says.Laura may have left Tanzania, but it’s obvious that what she learned and experienced is still carried in her heart and has become part of her. “I know now more than ever that I want to use my clinical skills to travel abroad and empower people as my mom empowered me,” she says. “I want to continue to honour my mom by passing on what she instilled in me since I was little: being smart is beautiful. Using your skills to help others is smart. Simply being kind is smart.”

smartwater Facebook page:

Soccer Girls Helping Out!

Soccer Girls Helping Out!

I have a cousin Sam who has always been really involved in her community.   This year she helped our soccer team (Dunbrack u12 B Girls in picture)  get involved too and this week we played or final game of the season!  We had a great season and I think we ended off our season in a great way too by supporting our local teen shelter – the Phoenix Youth Centre.   We invited the team we were playing against (City) to also join in and together we collected two large boxes of personal care items for the teen shelter who were all out of these products.  It was really cool to come together to help and both teams plan to continue to support the teen shelter when we come back to play soccer this winter!   We didn’t win our final game but we really feel like we still did something big that day.

It really is easy to do something and I always see her doing things and wondered if I could get involved too.  All it took was asking her if we could be involved too and she helped us organize it all.  Now I am anxious to see what else I can do to be involved.   I know I am only in grade 6 but that is how old she was when she started and she has done a lot of really amazing things.  I hope someday to be just like her!

I hope others can see how easy it is to get involved and maybe do a little drive for their local teen shelter or food bank. Its really simple to do and it doesn’t matter how big or small it is – every things counts!!!

So today – think about where you could help.   Its your community – so why not help to make it better!!


A Curious Teen and a Brave Soldier

A Curious Teen and a Brave Soldier

A curious teen and a brave soldier. Last year as part of a school project I decided to conduct an interview with a family friend who had gone to war in Afghanistan. I wanted to gain an understanding of the situations Canadians have been facing for the past 11 years. I was able to get a personal view from Corey Shelson, who held the rank of Captain as an Engineer Field Troop Commander when he was deployed to Afghanistan. He had eye opening things to say to me as a young teen, as well as a striving leader in my community.

C.L How long were you in Afghanistan?

C.S I left Canada on 25 April 2010, and arrived back 16 Dec 2010. Total time away from home was about 7.5 months.

C.L What were your fears going into this war?

C.S Due to the nature of the threat, my greatest fear was Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and the reality that losing a limb or my life was a possibility. My other greatest fear was losing one of my subordinates, and leaving my family behind should I pass away.

C.L Did you have to face these fears?

C.S Everyday. As Combat Engineers, one of our primary tasks was to open the routes used by the Infantry in order to allow them to move freely on the battlefield. What this really means is that the members of my troop, including myself, spent a lot of time investigating possible IED locations, and dealing with the hazards of explosive devices.

C.L Do you feel you served a strong purpose in the war?

C.S Yes. Everyone had a job to do over in Afghanistan and I was no different. My job was to command a troop of engineers in the provision of close engineer support (mobility support through the search for IEDs, compound and building search, explosive breaching of walls, explosive ordinance disposal etc) as well as be the lead on all general engineer support tasks (i.e construction of forward operating bases, road construction and repair, construction of non standard bridges, etc). There was a lot to do and we were busy. We supported the infantry, allowing them to live, move and fight, which in itself is an accomplishment.

C.L How has this experience changed you?

C.S The time I spent in Afghanistan had its highs and its lows. It afforded me the opportunity to lead soldiers in a complex and extremely high stakes environment, employ my tactical acumen and improve my leadership abilities. For this I am thankful. On the other hand, I have had to deal with the stresses that are incumbent with losing men at war and the guilt that goes along with that.

C.L If you were asked to go back over, would you consider it?

C.S If I were asked to go back I would go. Although it was stressful and dangerous my personal opinion is that if you are not prepared to deploy and do the job for real than you have no business wearing the uniform.

C.L Was your time successful? Do you feel that Canadian presence is influencing Afghanistan beneficially?

C.S Our contribution to the Afghan public has definitely improved their quality of life. From the schools, roads, and bridges we built, to the money that the Canadian Government has poured into developing their political system, police force, and military,Afghanistan is a better country for us having been there.

C.L What did you feel was the hardest part of this experience?

C.S Each and every day brought new challenges. Some days the hardest part was just functioning in the heat (55 degrees Celsius on some days in June/July). Other days it was staying vigilant while conducting a 10km dismounted patrol through extremely severe IED threat areas. Some days, like those where friends were hurt or killed, the hardest part was simply dealing with my emotions, picking myself up and carrying on.

C.L Did you play more of a peace or combat role?

C.S Combat.

As a young person, curious about our country and our world at large, I was shocked to hear what is happening in Afghanistan every day. We all hear the global news, but when I heard these answers last year, I discovered the most interesting and breaking news I have heard in years. Hearing Corey Shelson’s personal account of the Afghan war has opened my eyes, as I hope it does yours, to a world where we must stand together. One thing that I hope will change from reading this account is very simple: to turn a curious teen into a knowledgeable and delegated teen. Be ambitious and be curious.

How To Change A Life.

How To Change A Life.

I have always wondered, what it would take to change someones life. To change someones whole perspective on the world, in a positive way. I wanted to find out what it took to change a life. Then I thought about my platform; the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation. I realized that, every year this foundation changes lives. They supply children with the things that they need to learn.

To raise awareness for my platform, I decided to interview two principals from two schools in Edmonton, that had been affected by the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

The first interview was with Will Deys, Principal at Glendale Elementary school. Glendale school have just finished their 3 years with a Love of Reading grant. Mr. Deys was happy to answer my questions, although he is only in his first year at the school, so he is unaware of all the details regarding the application for the grant.





Chloe: How did you find out about the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation?

Will: a. This is my first year at Glendale School so I cant really answer this. I believe that the teacher and Library Technician that applied for the grant would have read about it on-line or through e-mails advertising the grant. In smaller schools like ours, we are always looking for new sources of funding to help students.

Chloe: What made you apply for a grant from the foundation?

Will: a. As mentioned above, additional funds are always required to help provide adequate resources for schools where the families may have limited incomes. We also recognize that reading is the foundation for learning. Anything we can do to encourage reading will benefit the students through their entire lives.

Chloe: How did you feel about the application process?

Will: a. Not sure, as I didn’t go through the application process, but I did do the reporting process this spring. It takes a significant amount of time to get the applications completed because of the information they request. You need to find out information about your communities average income and other information that schools do not generally have access to. That makes it hard. But the information ensures that the schools that receive the grant are those that are most in need of the support.

Chloe: What happened after you received the grant, in regards to receiving books for your school?

Will: a. In each year of the grant the school purchased books around a theme or specific area, as well as just purchasing general interest books.

b. In the past year, also the final year of the three year grant, we purchased books for every grade level and reading level that we possibly could. Our goal was to ensure that every student had a book that they would be interested in, and that they could read.

c. Books were obtained in a few different ways. Teachers and students went to the Indigo store to purchase their books for their classrooms. The library technician also went to the Indigo store to purchase books for the library. In the past year we have used visits to the store to purchase books, along with on-line purchases as they made it easier to order some of the books that might not have been in stock in the store.

Chloe: How has the student body changed in a positive way, after receiving the grant?

Will: a. I believe that this past year we really created an excitement about reading as we constantly had new books for the kids to read. They loved to be the first to read the new Geronimo Stilton, or the latest Bone graphic novel. Students were sharing their stories about their books and looking forward to getting the next book in a series. We have created a culture of reading at the school and believe that we have provided a book that every student is interested in. Unfortunately, the grant came to an end and it is getting harder to maintain that enthusiasm. Next year we will be purchasing new books and we hope to purchase so many new books per month to ensure we are always bringing in new books to keep the student engaged.

Chloe: How do you promote reading within the school?

Will: a. At Glendale School we have promoted reading through events like “Read In Week” where we bring in guests to read their favorite books to the students. We also brought in Canadian writer David Bouchard to speak to our students about his books on aboriginal stories and poetry.

b. New books were presented to students so they could see what was new. Often, a chapter or book synopsis was read to students so they knew what the general story was about. This was one of the most effective ways to generate interest.

c. Next year students will take part in a reading contest where they will have the opportunity to compete with others by reading. We also hope to have a way for students to review books for the entire school to hear and read.

d. Finally, the most important way to promote reading is by having the books that students want to read. This past year we have added to our Manga and Graphic novels as we recognize that they are an excellent way to get reluctant readers engaged. A book for everyone is the goal, and we made it!

Chloe: If there is anything else you would like to add, please do so.

Will: This Love of Reading program is so meaningful to schools. The Indigo store staff and people who manage the foundation do an incredible job of making the priority to get books in the hands of students. The three year program was incredible for such a small school like ours. I hope that it will continue to benefit other schools for years to come.

My second interview was with Sanaa El-Hassany, Principal of John A. McDougall School. Having recently received the wonderful news about the grant, Sanaa was very pleased to answer questions I had about the foundation, and how it will affect her school.


Chloe: How did you find out about the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation?

Sanaa: We found out about this grant when researching online for grants that could help us to support our work in literacy.

Chloe: What made you apply for a grant from the foundation?

Sanaa: At John A. McDougall School we have a very high needs population of students, many of whom struggle with literacy. Research tells us that students who are unable to read at grade level by the time they are in grade three have great difficulty ever catching up and are far more likely to struggle in a variety of areas as they grow up. We have made literacy the focus of our work because it is the best way that we can ensure the future success of students in our school.

In providing high quality literacy instruction, it is absolutely essential that students have access to good literature. Our primary goal in applying for this grant was to bring our current libraries to life by stocking them with the best possible selection of books and giving students direct access to those books. Our school has been faced with the difficult decision to put the majority of our funding into intervention, building capacity in teachers and smaller class sizes. This left a minimal allocation for resources, forcing us to look elsewhere to meet this critical need. We need to get good books into the hands of kids and this grant provides the means.

Chloe: How did you feel about the application process? What was involved in putting together the application for the grant?

Sanaa: The application was extensive and very time consuming. We created a committee of staff who volunteered to work together on the application. Each member took responsibility for a component of the application. It took many hours of discussion, research, writing and editing.

Chloe: How did you react when you were told that your school had received a Love of Reading grant?

Sanaa: We had an initial moment of shock and disbelief and then we were absolutely ecstatic! There were cheers, high fives all around. This grant will have an incredible impact on the students in our building and the quality of literacy instruction we will be able to provide.

Chloe: What happens now, in regards to receiving books for your school?

Sanaa: We are currently working on a detailed plan of how we are going to spend the grant money. In each library area (central, classroom and guided reading) we are taking an inventory of our resources, removing outdated or worn books and creating our wish lists so that we can begin purchasing books in a thoughtful, organized manner. Classroom teachers, literacy intervention teachers and students all have input into the lists of literature that we will be purchasing.

Chloe: How has the student body responded to this exciting news?

Sanaa: We received the phone call informing us that we had won the grant just 15 minutes before all of our students were due to have a joint activity in the gym. We seized this moment to share the news. The response was deafening! This is big news and students are excited to have the opportunity to share their ideas when it comes to purchasing books for classrooms. The buzz and excitement around this grant will generate an even greater interest in reading and books.

Chloe: How do you promote reading within the school?

Sanaa: Reading is an integral part of everyday at John A. McDougall School. Every classroom has at least one hour of the day dedicated to reading instruction, five days a week. In addition to this, we identify all struggling readers and provide as many of these children as possible with additional reading intervention in a one-to-one or small group setting. These intervention groups are taught by specially trained reading intervention teachers and occur for ½ an hour, five days a week. We also have a school wide home reading program in which students are encouraged to read at home every day and track the amount of reading they have done. Each month one classroom is awarded new books for demonstrating commitment to reading at home. In addition, we have a fabulous teacher librarian who promotes literature through book recommendations, and read aloud to all of our classrooms.

A big thanks goes out to Sanaa, and Will, for answering my questions, which helped me a lot in understanding how the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation affects children all across Canada. I now feel even more strongly about my platform, and I will continue to promote my platform, so that everyone can become aware of the literacy struggles that many people and schools are facing.

So now when I ask myself how to change a life, I know that it can be anything. Anyone can change someones life, anytime, anyplace. Small things can help people when they are down, anything to help them get back up onto their feet.

It can be as simple as buying a child a book…

Bullying Made Me Stronger

Bullying Made Me Stronger

Hi! I’m Jasmine Gemmell, I’m in grade 9  and am 15 years old. I love space, cats, and makeup and I am currently Miss Teen South Central Saskatchewan-World. My platform is the Kind Campaign, which is a campaign that focuses on the elimination on female to female bullying. Lets start this off by saying I hate the word bullying. It is overused and the meaning is misunderstood. People don’t take that word seriously. The topic of bullying is taken too lightly. You have to speak up, tell whats on your mind, and put an end to it. Feel strongly about something. Stop mistreating people, everyone’s different, thats never going to change, but the acceptance of those differences is what we must strive for.  Everyone has their place in this world, so let them get there. Don’t block their path by putting them down. Most kids don’t even tell anyone theyre being bullied, I sure didn’t.

The Kind Campaign is an internationally recognized movement, documentary and school program based upon the

"BE KIND" bracelets

powerful belief in kindness that brings awareness and potential healing to the effects of girl to girl bullying. We’re not alone. Every single girl has experienced becoming aggressors or victims of girl against girl crime. Physical fighting, name-calling, threats, power struggles, competition, manipulation, secrets, rumors, and ostracizing other girls all fall under the category of girl to girl crime. We need to band together and realize these similarities and learn from our mistakes to move forward. To be honest we all want to be liked. It’s hard enough to accept ourselves for who we are, let alone accept the judgments other girls have for us. The idea of female bullying has become a glamourized issue, especially in the media with “cat fights” and making fun of anytime girls aren’t getting along. We often choose to ignore is the fact that these experiences very often lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug abuse, and suicide in millions of girls lives. It’s hard to be a girl sometimes. And with everyones judging eyes watching its even harder. We all aren’t going to become best friends, we all have different interests that make this impossible. But we can do something, very simple, we can be kind, to ourselves, and everyone around us. To get along, is the easiest thing to do. Things will run so much more smoothly.

“We’ve all been the victim. Unfortunately, we’re also the cause. Help us change.”

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you, but the truth is they do, they hurt a lot. I can’t exactly remember when it all began, the day I became their target. They took my happiness away and I cant get it back. And what I dream of is my time in a place where I can be alone, no one to hurt me. There is no one to judge me. This is where I forget the pain that builds up inside me, this is my piece of heaven, and no one can take that away from me. But this is only temporary, once I go back into the real world, it all starts back up again. The smiling face I put on for you is only a simple mask, to please everyone else, so they don’t ask questions. I laugh with people I am close with, but then remember how it feels when I am here, and alone. Some days I have no friends, no one to tell, no one to explain my feelings and thoughts to. When you’re out at a party, or hanging out with friends, do you ever wonder what someone else is doing? That kid you see at school, you don’t really know. Does she have friends? Ones who won’t leave her side in a bad time? I’m so lost in my loneliness. So I sit here for hours, crying tears that no one ever sees, saying things no one ever hears. No one knows everything that is really going on. Everyone sleeps peacefully in their beds, looking forward to the next day. You see I think too much about what tomorrow will bring, I know it already, made my predictions, and have no exciting expectations. I’m sorry if I hurt you, but they make it this way. I can’t change it, until you do.

Here’s the thing. This does not just mean this is for you girls, its the general statement that we all need to be kinder, to males, to females, to everyone. Here’s my story. I grew up in a small town, I went to elementary with the same kids my entire life, did we get sick of each other? Yes, we did. And thats when the trouble started happening. In early elementary I will begin my story that was the first time I’d ever remember feeling left out. One day at school, and I know its going to sound silly now, but to a little 9 year old girl, it was pretty much the end of the world. Anyways, everyone had made hand shakes up at lunch one day, and I didn’t have a partner to do one with because there was 9 girls.. See the problem? Theres always that one kid left out. Then in grade 5 I decided I’d like to be a rock star, and this still embarrasses me to this day, but I have come to the conclusion that I have to make peace with my past and realize that at that time that something meant the world to me. So I chopped off my hair and got new clothes. Go to school the following September, get beaked out of my mind, by grade 8’s. So in grade 6 I had a crush on a boy, and then one day, he decided to think I was weird and tell our school how obsessed with him I was. See, boys are the problem too!  Also in grade 6 I got glasses, and one girl felt the need to remind me every day how the glasses I chose didn’t suit me. As well as the days I forgot them, she’d be the first to let me know! So grade 7 I got contacts, and wore make up and got “pretty” this was around the same time I put on 18 lbs in a year and that pretty all went down the drain again. So I joined volleyball, and some girls told me I was terrible, so I quit. I know my life sounds pretty pathetic so it probably won’t come as a shock that I became a bit suicidal and depressed around this same time.

Talking at school about the Kind Campaign

I’d always conjure up ideas in my head how I could end it and make it the most dramatic to make people realize, hey wow, I was mean to her. I wish I wouldn’t have been the reason. But then a friend of mine did commit suicide, and I saw the pain her family went through, and I knew I couldn’t. She has people writing on her facebook wall everyday about how much people miss her, its all a crock! If they miss her so bad now, why didn’t they do anything about it when she was still around. She had a wonderful home life, great siblings, athletic, pretty girl. But kids are evil, mean, catty, jealous, and unkind. Then in the summer before grade 8 I made a YouTube account doing make up for myself and other people, that was fun while it lasted, until people I knew personally found it.. Then a group of girls made fake accounts commenting nasty things to me, apparently even kids in the big city found out and called me “the youtube girl” Now days you can say the meanest things all behind closed doors, where no one will find out, because of your account hiding behind that identity, its so cowardly, yet we do it. I had a plan now to lose all that weight at 20 lbs heavier than I am today, I decided I was going to work out every night and cut down on what I ate. Seemed flawless, until I got addicted, all I thought about was food, it was one thing I could count on, it was my friend, and my enemy. Anorexia was the next step, without a positive self image from being put down, I was a vulnerable wreck, easily warped on what was a good body image. I ended up losing about 25 lbs, and wanted to lose more, because as I lost weight, I got more attention. I liked it, and I felt special who was “too thin?!” they had to be so special. So now it came time to pick a highschool… I knew too many people going to my closest highschool, they knew my past, they knew what hurt me and what cuts the deepest. So my grade 8 teacher suggested here, I came. And ended up knowing a lot of people. But the trouble didn’t end there.

I got to a private school and realized girls were mean everywhere I go, the situation is inevitable. Girls are all the same! They want the guy, they want the popularity, they want to go to lush parties, buy hip clothes, and to have great friends. But the truth is, while your pushing your way to the top to get these things, you dont realize the people you hurt. For the first few months of school every now and then I’d just sit down and bawl my eyes out because I had no real friends, I’m not sure if I do yet, I’ve only hung out twice with people from school. I guess I’m kind of a loner, maybe I like it? No stress. But without companionship, the world is a very lonely place. But now, I’ve figured out my place in the world, and thats through knowledge. Its the one thing I’m good at and can ensure won’t leave me at any time. I don’t NEED a best friend, just people to be kind to me, through whatever I choose to do with my time. And yet I still want to be “cool” I still have that wish, but what can I say? I’m a 15 year old girl. I know I’m annoying, I know I’m awkward, I know I’m a walking pity party, I know I’ve made a joke of anything I’ve ever said. But I don’t need anyone to tell me so, I know it might be a good topic to talk about behind my back on the bus about how annoying I am, pump yourself up a bit. Make yourself feel super cool for the few minutes while your putting someone down who isn’t in the presence to stand up for themselves. Its not like I would anyways.

The other ironic thing is that some people get stronger through bullying people, initially for sure, the rush of getting a laugh out other people from putting someone down. But people also learn, and realize from their mistakes of once bullying a person of taking a step back and taking a walk in their shoes. I’ve realized myself that the feeling of getting other people to laugh is a great one, no matter what way we get those laughs from. The fact is, as we grow older, we usually learn from our past mistakes and apply them to our present. No one wants to get bullied, and no one wants to be known as a bully, its a hard thing to come to conclusion with, that I have hurt people, intentionally and unintentionally. I don’t want to be known as that person, I want to change. I am changing, and I did change. Now days anytime I will go out of my way to apologize for doing something that may have even remotely hurt someone. I am in no way here to single out people for their wrong doing, just make the awareness that bullying is a real thing that needs to end.

Now thinking back, I don’t even remember half the reasons for the times  I spent my night upset in my room, so truly it didn’t mean much to me, and the fact is: I got over it. Bullying made me a stronger person. This is only half the story, the other half I’m too embarrassed to even say, because it makes me sound more pathetic than believe I am. The way I tell these stories is by making fun of myself, and the only reason is my way of coping, without breaking down. For some reason, making it seem light hearted, but in no way it is, makes me less emotional. I did a presentation in my elementary school about this, and the funny thing is, after that I gained some friends. People realized they did wrong, and I realized I’m not a perfect person either. But here and now I’m not claiming to be. I’ve been a part of every aspect of bullying. I’ve been the bully, the bystander, and the victim. But now I am here to be the change, of the end of cruelty and the beginning of a kinder world.

Please just be kind.