A look at the many ways to make a difference…from celebrities to activists to ordinary people.
It’s tough being a teen. You have to abide by rules you didn’t make up and every day brings a fresh torrent of emotions. You wake up with a zit on what may be the most important day of your life but there is an entire planet out there where things are a whole lot tougher. Opening your eyes to issues that matter is important because we’re all in this together. It’s a small world.
You could start a food or clothing drive at your school, or even sign a petition with Amnesty International or Oxfam, but it’s time to find your passion. Whether you’re a celebrity with a conscience, a volunteer or it’s just your job to inform others, one person CAN make a difference. Just open your eyes.
From Ajax, Ontario’s most famous sons, Sum 41, are known as guys who like to have a good time. Past album names like Half Hour of Power; All Killer, No Filler and Does This Look Infected? reflected their youthful punk style and playful sense of humour. Their newest album, however, is simply named Chuck. So who the heck is Chuck?
Chuck is Chuck Pelletier, a retired Canadian ex-soldier who was living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, volunteering with the United Nations (UN). Sum 41 travelled to the Congo in May 2004 to film a documentary with War Child Canada. It was Chuck Pelletier who saved their lives.
The band was staying in Bukavu, the tourist capital of the Congo, when fighting broke out in front of their hotel. At one point, a mortar bomb exploded 10 metres away. The decision was made to evacuate, and Pelletier, the only person with military experience, was instrumental to this process. The band made it to the airport and was rescued by a pilot who risked his own life to fly them to Uganda. In honour of Pelletier, Sum 41 named their album Chuck, and still keep in touch. As bass player Cone McCaslin writes on their website, “We’ll forever remain grateful to these people who put their lives on the lines to save our asses.”
Sum 41 drummer, Steve Jocz entertains Congolese youth by playing the drum at the Music Therapy Centre for “Solidarity Action for Children in Distress.”
Sum 41’s guitarist, Dave Baksh at Ekabana, a centre for girl orphans, many of whom have been accused of witchcraft and abandoned by their families.
Great teachers can influence how you see the world. After her Grade 7 teacher, Sofie Maurice, taught a theme on human rights highlighting Canadian children’s charity Free the Children (FTC), 14-year-old Marie Abbott of Whitehorse, Yukon, became a passionate social activist. FTC was started in 1995 by 12-year-old Craig Kielburger as an effort to stop child labour.
In May 2004, Marie represented Canada at the Children’s World Congress on Child Labour in Florence, Italy, where she listened to the experiences of former child labourers turned activists and learned more about the issue of children’s rights. Marie fundraised to pay for her and her chaperone’s plane tickets to Italy. Who did she take as her chaperone? Her teacher, Sofie Maurice.
“I feel in life you turn out to be lucky or not so lucky.I’m lucky because I have the opportunity to go to school and I have a family that loves and supports me,” Mary says. “If I make a difference in the life of one child, it’s all worth it. Young people may think it’s all up to adults, but it’s not true! There are many ways to help, and it’s really possible to create change.”
Marie Abbott participates in a march against child labour through the streets of Florence, Italy at the end of the Children’s World Congress on Child Labour in May 2004
Marie with friends from Sweden, Nicaragua and Yemen at the Children’s World Congress on Child Labour.
ALANIS MORISSETTE, CHRIS MARTIN, THOM YORKE
“I support Oxfam in shining the light on the importance of leveling the playing field to ensure that small farms, the farmers themselves, and their communities benefit from equal opportunity,” says Alanis Morissette.
Make Trade Fair raises awareness about the billions of people worldwide who suffer in poverty and go hungry because of the crisis in world agricultural trade. Agricultural trade is worth over $600 billion (US) a year, with most of that money benefiting rich countries. These countries can afford to over-produce cheap commodities like sugar, wheat, rice and cotton which are dumped and wasted, while billions of people grow poorer, unable to compete.
Their most recent Make Trade Fair campaign is the “Have you ever felt dumped on?” photo series. In the photos, actors and musicians are “dumped on” with various cheap commodities. Chris Martin of Coldplay drowns in rice, Alanis Morissette is showered with wheat, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead likes liquid cocoa.
European wheat costs almost twice as much to produce as wheat from poor countries but — with the help of hand-outs from the European Union — it is dumped on poor countries at rock-bottom prices; pushing poor farmers out of business and into poverty.
Chris Martin of Coldplay would like to bring to your attention to the cause of poverty in Haiti. The US government pays its farmers $1 billion a year to over-produce rice and dump the surplus at rockbottom prices in poor countries. In Haiti, one fifth of the population has been driven out of business and into poverty as a result.
Thom Yorke of Radiohead is covered in chocolate to bring to your attention that poor countries lose around $100 billion a year because rich countries put up barriers, which prevent them from making the most out of trade in crops such as cocoa (where chocolate comes from).
You don’t have to spend a lot of time to make a difference; it’s the effort that counts. Jim White works on the ground crew for Air Canada and jumped at the chance to volunteer his time to help victims of the December tsunami in Southeast Asia. Air Canada put up a notice asking employees to sacrifice their day off to help load cargo planes bound for Sri Lanka with supplies provided by World Vision. Jim and about 25 others spent the day lifting heavy cases of water, medical supplies, dry goods and cleaning supplies. “There was definitely a nice atmosphere. Everybody was in a terrific mood, which is very infectious,” he says. “World Vision gave us a little talk beforehand and thanked us.”
Jim has also been a Big Brother to the same Little Brother for 14 years. “It’s a nice feeling to help other people,” he says. It just goes to show that every little bit helps, whether it’s your time or your money.
Jim White still standing after a hard day of loading boxes on planes to help with the tsunami relief effort. Like many, he gave up his holidays to make a difference.
Kim Plewes, an 18-year-old from Oakville, Ontario, is another activist who was inspired by a teacher. When her Grade 6 teacher told the class about child labour issues, she was appalled. “I thought, ‘This is absolutely crazy,”’ she says. “My friends and I started a petition that said, ‘Please sign if you’re against child labour.”’ She, too, learned about FTC and in May 2002, through Craig and his brother Marc, Kim met with Member of Parliament and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour and presented her petition to the Canadian government. It had grown to 6,000 international signatures.
Kim didn’t stop there. She has been a tireless activist for children all over the world, travelling to Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica to help build schools and homes, learn about rural and urban poverty, work with mentally and physically disabled children and to hear first-hand experiences of children living in extreme poverty. In 2004, Kim received the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award.
“If we each helped one person,” she says, “there would eventually be no one left to help anymore. One person can make a difference. Try to find your passion, the one thing that gets you up in the morning, the one thing you want to see stopped or changed and learn about it.”
(Below, right) Kim in Carabaillo, The Dominican Republic, where she helped rebuild a community. The little girl in the photo and Kim were inseparable till she boarded her bus to leave.
Kim in Haiti in September 2004 where she offered street kids English classes. The little boy in the photo is homeless and played with Kim everyday till her departure.
Former Much Music VJ and host of CBC Newsworld’s The Hour, George Stroumboulopoulos is no stranger to dishing out hard truth. His no-bs style has earned him respect from fans, journalists and politicians across Canada. So when the atrocities caused by civil war in Sudan, especially in the western region of Darfur, began making headlines, George thought, “Man, I want to go the Sudan.” And Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace, an old friend of his, agreed. George contacted Dr. Eric Hoskins of War Child Canada, whom he had worked with on coverage of the 2000 federal elections and whom Raine had travelled to Iraq with in 2001, and within months the trip was set up.
In October 2004, George, Raine and Dr. Hoskins travelled to Sudan on a fact-finding mission. “We were there for 11 days to assess what was going on,” George says. “It was a chance for War Child to participate, help out and get in at the ground level to find out where their resources would be used best.” While there, they spoke with refugees in camps for displaced people, humanitarian workers and government officials to gather as much information as they could. “The Sudanese people have a reputation for being the most welcoming and hospitable people in the world,” he says, “After everything they’ve gone through, they were so welcoming.”
While George recognizes that it’s hard enough being a teen, he thinks it’s important for young people to gain perspective through learning. “The thing I would say is, ‘Read.’ Really, it’s just about learning,” he says. “Knowing this stuff is better than not knowing.” And don’t get discouraged. “Everybody feels the frustration that things don’t work. Gandhi felt it, Martin Luther King Jr. felt it. Just find things you’re passionate about and work on them.”
Dr. Eric Hoskins, President of War Child Canada and Raine Maida, lead singer of Our Lady Peace chat with Sudanese men in a camp for internally displaced persons in Darfur, Sudan.
George and a group of young Sudanese girls share a moment.
Being a staff reporter for The Globe and Mail has led Colin Freeze all over the world, covering stories of death and human suffering. He’s been to El Salvador to cover an earthquake that killed 1,000 people, he was in New York during the week of 9/11, and in January 2005, he spent two weeks in Sri Lanka following Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) as they brought aid to tsunami-devastated areas. Colin spent a week with DART observing as the 200 soldiers purified gallons of water, offered basic medical care from mobile units, and oversaw the rebuilding of bridges that had been washed away.
“What is underplayed is the economic loss,” he says. “There was this one fisherman [in Amparai, eastern Sri Lanka] who escaped the tsunami, but his 30-foot fishing boat was taken by the waves and smashed into his house. He lost both his livelihood and his home. Beyond the death toll, there are thousands of people without jobs and homes. How do you rebuild a community? I don’t think anyone has really figured that out yet.”
Colin travelled with DART to Sri Lanka and observed what a difference a small group of dedicated individuals can make. Captain Carmen Meakin, a medical officer looks at the sores on a young boy’s feet at one of the walk-in clinics that the Canadian Forces are operating in Sri Lanka.
Captain Bill Rideout, a Medical Officer with the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), treats a young patient at a makeshift clinic in a school in Pottuvil.
Read about Free the Children at www.freethechildren.com and Leaders Today at www.leaderstoday.com. Visit www.warchild.ca to learn more about assisting children who have been affected by war. Learn more about Oxfam at www.oxfam.ca, sign a petition to make trade fair. And if you can, donate time, if even just a little bit.