Musician Paul Barton took his piano to the mountains of Kanchanaburi, Thailand to play for some very old, injured and handicapped elephants. Look for Plara, the blind elephant immediately behind the piano.
Musician Paul Barton took his piano to the mountains of Kanchanaburi, Thailand to play for some very old, injured and handicapped elephants. Look for Plara, the blind elephant immediately behind the piano.
One of my favourite moments at We Day was that Shawn Mendes was there to perform! I am a fan of his music, for sure. But it’s more than that – he has a great story about how he was discovered and the success that came after that. But even beyond that, I love what he stands for. When you see it this way – he’s like a triple threat! Read on to learn more about the awesome Shawn Mendes.
Shawn is from Pickering, Ontario and he is the singer behind the amazing hit song “Life Of The Party”. Within 10 days of the single being released on iTunes, 200 000 copies were sold! Island Records, the label that signed him, released the song at 11:15 pm and by midnight, it became #1 on iTunes. Wow. He also has 3.3 million followers on Vine and 2 million followers on Twitter, and climbing every day.
I met Shawn at We Day and he was so awesome. I was so inspired by him that I created a Vine account and my first post was a video I shot of him at We Day while I watched his performance from side-stage.
Shawn started off with his own Vine channel, being one of the first people to sing covers on the social media network. People had been doing this for a long time on YouTube, but no one was doing it on Vine. He sang hits like As Long As You Love Me by Justin Bieber, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor and more. Soon after he released his covers, he started to get tens of thousands followers on Vine and Twitter and he had gained lots of interest from the music industry, media, and music fans. He got discovered on Vine and got signed to Island Records and made Life Of The Party.
So, Shawn Mendes is VERY big deal. I found some interesting facts about him that I wanted to share:
1. Shawn learned to play guitar from YouTube instead of taking guitar lessons. He would come home from school and from 5:00 to 8:00, he would sit on his computer watching YouTube videos.
2. He is the youngest artist to debut in the Top 25 with a debut song in the Billboard Hot 100. Shawn is the youngest artist to debut in the top 25 since Justin Bieber’s second Hot 100 hit, “One Less Lonely Girl.” At the time, he was 15 years, seven months and three weeks young when Life Of The Party was realeased, he was 15 years old and 9 months old, which is younger than when Justin Bieber’s song One Less Lonely Girl.
3. In April he won Ryan Seacrests’s Best Cover Song contest for his cover of Say Something by Great Big World and Christina Aguilera.
4. Shawn had recorded a cover song of 3 songs by Ed Sheeran and because Ed had loved Shawn’s talent so much, he flew Shawn to LA for dinner.
5. Shawn has a campaign for Do Something called Notes From Shawn. The campaign’s goal is to boost strangers self esteem by posting positive notes anywhere.
Let’s look a bit deeper into Notes From Shawn. It’s all about random acts of kindness. Shawn wanted to make people feel happy and wanted to inspire his huge and very engaged community to join him. He created Notes From Shawn and what it’s really all about is leaving positive messages for people to make them smile. Go sign up at https://www.dosomething.org/campaigns/notes-shawn to get involved. Everybody could use a compliment, and we could use motivation and a smile. You don’t have to leave notes only for family members and friends, strangers could use a boost of self esteem, too. He wants you can leave notes where they will be seen and take people by surprise – on car windshields, school lockers or even the handles of a shopping cart at the grocery store. Awesome, right? I’m already signed up to participate in #NotesFromShawn and I have a few ideas about what I’m going to write and where I’m going to post them.
Shawn Mendes had an amazing performance at We Day! I just signed up for Vine myself and appropriately, my first Vine video is the video I took of Shawn at sidestage.
The goal of the initiative of #MyYearOfAction is not only for you to find your passion, but to learn about those little things that we can all do to add up to make a huge difference. One of the ways that we can take action is through using technology for social good. You can start a blog or use social media to get loud about things you care about or invent a new product that will help people do things better, safer or faster. But you can also do something as simple as getting an app on your mobile device.
I did some research and I have downloaded some eco-friendly and world-changing apps to share with you. These make it easy to change the world.
Joulebug is such a great app and is definitely one of my favourites. Joulebug has all different kinds of goals, that challenge you to be eco-friendly in many different ways. In the app you buzz in when you complete a goal and you get a pin. When you have 5 pins, you earn a badge. Also, on each challenge you finish there is a video about that act you just did and how big your impact was. Sometimes it’s about saving money and sometimes it’s about saving the earth. It also gives you information like the yearly impact and suggests websites so that you can learn more about the issue. You also have points that you get with all your actions you do, and you can see how many you have in your profile. When you sign up you create a personal profile where you can also see your badges, points and pins and the impact you are making. Another awesome thing about Joulebug is that you can see how other people are making a difference. You can see how many badges and pins other users are getting and you can like and comment what they have been doing. Isn’t this app so cool?
The challenges can be either so simple or something kind of difficult to complete. Each challenge is still great, because like I say, little things add up to make a huge difference. Here are a few challenges that I have completed on Joulebug:
1. Bin To Win – this one is all about recycling. When you put something in the recycle bin, buzz the challenge and you get a pin! Something cool that I found out about recycling and trash is that every year, each family throws out about 207 pounds of garbage.
2. Bottle Rocket – this one focuses on using a reusable water bottle instead of plastic bottles because it helps the environment and reduces the garbage from the landfill. Whenever you fill your reusable water bottle, buzz it on Joulebug! The average american drinks 21 gallons of plastic bottled water a year.
3. Shower Sprinter tries to get you to conserve water by taking less time in the shower. Did you know that every minute you shower costs $8 a year. Time yourself in the shower, when you shower for less than 5 minutes, buzz the app.
4. Washing Smart – Buzz the challenge every time you wash 1 full load instead of two small ones.
Joulebug does have a website that lists all the pins and challenges, but you just cannot buzz and complete challenges on anything except a mobile device. What is really cool about the app’s website is that there is a blog that includes updates, eco-friendly tips and people and places that have really stood out for the environment.
2. Ocean Wise
On the We Create Change Tour in Vancouver, my mom and I went to the Vancouver Aquarium and learned about an initiative called Ocean Wise. Ocean Wise raises awareness about sustainable seafood and has made partnerships with resturants, grocery stores and catering services to make ocean-friendly decisions. The Ocean Wise app makes it easy for you to find resturants and stores that offer sustainable seafood. With your location entered, Ocean Wise can find lots of resturants near you that is ocean-friendly. You can also browse different sea food resturants which has a link to the resturants and stores website. Ocean Wise is great because they are helping animal welfare and making fish catching more sustainable.There is also an Ocean Wise website with blogs for contests, events, recommended resturants and stores and tons of sustainable lifestyle tips and also eco-friendly tips.
Whenever you want to eat seafood that is sustainable for you and the environment, look for the Ocean Wise sticker in grocery stores stores and resturants. Here is the sticker:
There are many things that we need to dispose of that should not go in the garbage, recycling blue bin or green bin. Batteries, cell phones, ink and toner from printers or styrofoam, are all examples of things that can be recycled or need to be disposed of in a safe way. These things should be taken it to a recycling center so it can be put in the right place and be taken care of properly. Sometimes, it can be hard to find a recycling center that takes what you need to throw out near you, but iRecycle does that for you. When you enter your location, you can choose what you are getting rid of and there will be a list of places specially for that near you. iRecycle also has a blog on the app about ways to reduce, reuse and recycle that you can read straight from your device. Cool, huh?
4. Good Guide
When we buy food or cleaning supplies, you want to make sure that they are not hazourdous to the environment or your health. With an app called Good Guide, you can find a product within seconds. There are different catergories where you can see eco and health-friendly products. You can search it up and Good Guide rates it by health, environment and society and a overall score of it. You can also scan the bar code with your device and it pulls up all the info about it. The Good Guide website also shows all the non-hazourdous and eco-friendly products, it also shows the popular products! This is a great way to insure that the products you are buying are good for you and the planet!
We365 app the creation of Free The Children and Telus and helps inspire and motivate people to make a difference. It is kind of like Joulebug, but it focuses on all issues. Environment, Human Rights, Bullying, Health, Happiness, Education, Global Poverty, Animals, It All Adds Up and Community. There are challenges that are all about the issues that people care about. What is really cool about it, is that YOU can make challenges and find more about other changemakers and their opinons on issues. You can also accept challenges and share your feelings and pictures about the challenge. You can even connect your challenges to a cause that you care about and you can even join causes that you are passionate about. People also create groups for organizations and issues that you can join. You can like or comment things too. When you make challenges, complete challenges, like, comment or make posts, you can get pins, which really show off how you are a changemaker. You also have a profile with all of your challenges, posts and pins!
If you are under 13, you would have a private account on the app. You can still complete challenges, like and comment things and post on your profile, just it would not be public. When people see your profile, they wouldn’t see your posts. When people try to follow you, it would just be a follow request. If you accept it, then they can see everything that you have posted. Then, We365 is a safe community.
We365 is awesome because you can be changing the world 365 days a year! You can also find other changemakers in your community and get involved and interact with them.
So, what are you waiting for? Go download these 5 free apps that can help you change the world in a tangiblle and meaningful way. Once you have tried out an app(s), comment below to let me know what you thought of them! I would love to hear it! If you have apps that you want to recommend to me, I’d love to hear that too!
Halloween is coming up and for so many of us, Free The Children’s campaign, We Scare Hunger, is too. We Scare Hunger is all about collecting non-perishable food items and donating it to your local food bank for people in need in your community. This is a great way to create change locally. I have been hearing and seeing that so many people have already been collecting canned goods and donating them to food banks. So many of us start this campaign weeks before we go we go out trick-or-treating and I know that a lot of schools have boxes set up in classrooms all over Canada. One of the things that I love about We Scare Hunger is that it really proves that we are never too young to make a difference.
I had the chance to sit down with Jonathan White – the man behind We Scare Hunger! He has been involved with Free The Children more than 15 years and he sits on the Free The Children US Board of Directors and he is the Director of Service Learning and Professor of Sociology and Politica Economy at Bentley University. Jonathan is also The Professor in the “Ask a Profesor” Series on the We Day website where he shares about issues that are importatnt to him and to all of us. I wanted to know the story of We Scare Hunger, how it came to be and all about his passion. Please meet my friend, Jonathan White.
How did you think of the Free The Children campaign We Scare Hunger?
When I was in university in the late 1980s, a group of friends and I were sitting around our dorm room at Brandeis University in Massachusetts on Halloween day. There we were, feeling too old to go out trick-or-treating, but still wishing that we could. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to get the free candy- as by that age we could get candy anytime we wanted- but it was more that we wanted to get dressed up, act goofy, and just have a great time. Somewhat jokingly, I suggested that we go trick-or-treating but that instead of candy we would ask for cans of food. My friends thought it was a great idea! So, with little time to waste we thought up Halloween costumes and we hit the local neighborhoods to put our plans into action. That year, we went by foot and we gathered hundreds of cans of food that we brought to the local food pantry the next day. We had a great time, we felt really good to be making a positive difference in our own community, and we felt empowered for the rest of the year to continue thinking of ways to help,.We had our spark! We were motivated to seek real change! And Halloween for Hunger (now also We Scare Hunger) was born!
How did your idea turn into what We Scare Hunger is today?
Many years ago, I was speaking at an early Take Action Academy for Me to We and Free the Children. My wife Shelley- also a professor and also a member of the Board of Directors for Free the Children. I told the story of how I started Halloween for Hunger, how each year I grew it with more schools, more students participating, and more cans being raised, and how much fun I had doing it. Well, if you know anything about Free the Children youth, you can only imagine the ideas they had to bring the campaign to their schools and their towns! I felt so humbled and went to work creating resources and guides for them to carry the campaign forward.
A few years later, Halloween for Hunger had become so popular with the Free the Children youth that Craig and Marc Kielburger asked me if Free the Children could partner with me in bringing Halloween for Hunger to the organization as an official campaign. Of course I said yes! It’s very exciting to me that it is a campaign that has stood the test of time, always remaining one of our most popular campaigns, and especially that so many of our youth members use this campaign to a) spread awareness about the issues of domestic and global hunger; and b) get more students involved in Free the Children and We Act clubs at school. We hope that We Scare Hunger is a bit of a jumping off point – a campaign early in the school-year that it is the start line for a year of campaigning and fundraising for Free the Children, and for building knowledge about hunger and poverty. We believe that Knowledge is Power- the power to change the world in the ways that it sorely needs to be changed!
How did you get involved with Free The Children?
I became involved with Free the Children in the very early years. I was researching child labor as I was preparing to teach my students about this vast social problem, and I must admit to becoming quite depressed with what I was learning. Imagine that today there are 220 million illegal child laborers around the world? That nearly half of these work in what we term the “worst forms of child labor,” such as child soldiers, deeply dangerous agricultural work, child slavery, the child sex industry, and others. You can see why I felt so depressed!
But then I happened upon an article of another person who had been researching about child labor and who was also depressed, but who had decided to DO something about it. And he was only 14 at the time! You guessed it, this article was about Craig Kielburger. How lucky for me to have met him through this article, and I decided to bring him to my university to teach my students about child labor and about the ways that we can all make a difference. It was a magical night, with hundreds of students attending, and both Craig and Marc Kielburger (who was studying at Harvard University, nearby to where I was teaching) came and they were, of course, tremendous and inspirational! We spoke, the three of us, deep into the night and from there we formed the foundation of our long-time friendship and work together.
Soon after, I went on the first ever Me to We trip, which was to Kenya. Me to We Trips are incredible, inspiring, shocking in the exposure one gets to poverty and exhilarating in the exposure one gets to wonderful people living in communities throughout the world. As I believe it does for anyone who goes on a Me to We trip, it changed my life. Upon return, I spoke at the annual Free the Children Leadership Academy, and since then I’ve committed to being involved in any and all ways I can! Whether giving talks at Academy, helping to develop campaigns, consulting with the INCREDIBLE Free the Children and Me to We staffs on growth and curriculum, serving on the Board of Directors, leading trips, or volunteering to help in the office I am always feeling just so lucky to be involved.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about so much in this wonderful world of ours! I’m passionate about family and friends and community, and especially so about my 13 nephews and nieces. They inspire me in deep ways that they don’t even know! And I’m passionate about teaching, about my students, and about intellectual dialogue that allows for the civility of disagreement while equally allowing for strong moral vision. I’m driven in my passion for social justice, to identify and learn about the issues of human rights violations and injustice that plague our planet and to be creative, idealistic, and unbending in searching for solutions.
The issue that drives me most, both in my academic and activist lives, is the issue of hunger. So many questions that beg me to challenge myself to better understand, and to challenge myself to “be the change.” Why are there 50 million hungry people in the United States and millions of hungry individuals in Canada, amidst vast wealth and waste? Why, in both countries, are children the largest age group afflicted by hunger, and what does this tell us… not about those who are hungry, but about our societies and about all of us who allow for these social problems without fighting to create change? Why are there nearly a billion hungry people in our global family, in the context of a world that has more than enough food to everyone on the planet several times over? What does this say about us as a civilized world, as citizens of this world, and what can we do to eliminate hunger from our planet once and for all?
How can we take a campaign like We Scare Hunger: Halloween for Hunger and use it to not only collect cans of food for those who are hungry, but also to raise awareness about the issue, to educate a generation, and to equip ourselves with the tools we need to eradicate hunger from the earth? So, hunger is certainly one of my biggest issues of passion, but I have another issue I’m equally passionate about. And it’s that I passionately believe that young people can be the leaders of today and I walk proudly behind the 2.3 million youth in the Free the Children network and try to help in any way I am able.
What advice do you have for young people who want to make a difference?
I believe so deeply in the ability of young people to change the world, that it’s actually difficult for me to even put my thoughts into words. Be bold, be courageous, think outside the box. Be shamelessly idealistic, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a difference or that you’re too young to take the lead, see roadblocks as detours that will always show you to a better path if you’re creative and persistent. Have fun and experience joy as you’re changing the world or you’ll burn out and we need you for the long-term, believe in yourself and believe (know!) that there are millions of others around the world equally as passionate and working as tirelessly as you are toward social change. And most of all remember that knowledge is power and that the more you learn about your issue the more powerful you’ll be at creating real solutions.
Throughout history, students have always been at the center of the most powerful movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, the Save Darfur Movement, today’s Sustainability Movement, and many more. The WE Movement is YOUR movement, the social problems of today will be solved by you and your generation, and there is little doubt that you will grow up to be the generation who radically and beautifully create the changes in the world we so desperately need in order to best protect people and planet. And know that we, older generations, believe in you, are inspired by you, and are here to assist you as you turn passion to action and dreams to reality!
On a final note, I hope that you have the best time, tons of fun, and a deeply meaningful experience as you head out for your We Scare Hunger activities this year. And, from the very bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
Isn’t he amazing? Thank YOU Jonathan for letting me interview you and sharing your story about We Scare Hunger and your passion.
Jonathan proves that we’re never too young and that everything and anything that creates change starts with one person and one idea. We Scare Hunger started with Jonathan and his friends going out for Halloween and collected canned foods for good. Now, We Scare Hunger is one of Free The Children’s biggest campaigns!
Last year, students raised more than 875,000 pounds of non-perishable items for We Scare Hunger! This is a big impact, and I know this year we can do even better!
After we collect all of our food donations, we need to find a local food bank. If you don’t know where your local food bank is, here is a link to find them: http://www.foodbankscanada.ca/utility-pages/find-a-food-bank.aspx?lang=en-CA
So, what are you waiting for? Go to your schools, your after school programs and your community and get involved in We Scare Hunger!
I had the honour this weekend to introduce my role model, Severn Suzuki before her keynote at Blissdom Canada. A few have asked for me to publish the speech, so here it is, and thank you to the organizers of the event for thinking of me, and for Severn for getting up super-early to do it!
She has been called an eco-activist since she was 9 years old when she started an eco-team with her friends.
She is speaking at We Day this year.
You all know who her Dad is.
Hmmm. Sounds like me, right?
I’m really proud to have so much in common with a woman who has inspired me so much in my journey as a change-maker, my role model, Severn Suzuki.
When I started my blog my parents encouraged me to find something to write about. They didn’t want me to write about my life as a 9 year old or what music I was listening to. There was already an Alper who had that covered. But like my Dad, they wanted me to find something that I was passionate about – that I could share what I was learning, feeling and doing and perhaps motivate other people to learn a thing or two as well.
I decided that I was going to focus on the environment. I’ve always loved animals and I began to realize that they rely on us to take care of the earth that they call home too. I understood that the things that we are doing are destroying their habitats and that it is up to us – all of us – to do better.
One night my mom called me downstairs to watch a video that she saw online. Dove had just launched a campaign to empower young girls called “Women that should be famous.” One of those women was Severn. I watched it again and again – there she was, a young girl who cared about the environment so much that she travelled to Rio to be part of a conference. While she was there she had 5 minutes that changed her life and it was, I believe, a turning point for the world.
You see, the United Nations had also gathered in Rio and one of the big things on their agenda was the environment. Severn was invited to address leaders from all over the world. She was 12 years old.
I believed every word. So did the world leaders. Severn became known as “girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes.”
“Mommy,” I said “do you think I can do that one day? Do you think I can speak and people will listen?”
She said. “Hannah, I think you can. Keep learning. Keep writing. When you have something to say use your voice and people will listen.”
Fueled by inspiration from Severn, I kept at it. I wrote this post – Tonight I Found My Role Model and I realized how important it is to find people that inspire you – people that have set a path and have proven that ‘it’ – whatever your ‘it’ is – can be done.
It started. People were reading and sharing my blog. The people at Dove did too and they made this for me:
So, I have not spoken at the UN, but I did do this.
So it’s been 20 years since Severn made her impassioned plea at the UN – at 12 years old she talked about the beautiful world that she had travelled with her father – the world that she was scared would not have the same beauty for her to show her children. Today, Severn is a Mom and continues to use her voice to speak out on behalf of the world she wants to show her son.
I’m so proud to introduce you to my role model, my fellow eco-activist, my friend – Severn Suzuki.
Severn is who she is today, not because her Dad is David Suzuki, but because to her, David Suzuki is her Dad. By way, her Mom is pretty awesome too. They taught her to ask questions and find answers. They listened to her concerns and her fears. They supported her when she discovered her spark and was ready to take action.
My parents have done the same for me and I encourage you to help your children discover their spark and DO something. If there is one thing that I have learned through blogging and travelling as an Ambassador of Free the Children it’s that there is no such thing as too young.
PS – Here is Severn’s full speech from the UN!
The week of We Day is always exciting – especially if it’s your first time. I put together 14 things that you need to do BEFORE your first We Day. And for those of you lucky enough that this is not your first We Day, here’s a refresher.
1. Get a good night’s sleep. I totally understand what it’s like to be so excited the night before We Day that you can’t imagine sleeping. Count sheep…or coins…whatever it takes. You’ll need all the energy you can get.
2. Learn the We Day Dance. Throughout the day the entire stadium will be out of their seats and on their feet doing it. It’s so cool be part of 20,000 of us doing it together.
3. Bring non-perishable food items to donate. There will be donation boxes throughout the stadium. If you’re going to We Day, you know how important it is to support your local community.
4. Bring all of the used batteries in your house that you’ve been collecting to dispose of safely. At We Day a new campaign is being launched called Zinc Saves Lives and for every battery collected at We Day, a child will receive zinc that will keep them healthy.
5. Wear comfortable shoes. It’s a long day and you’ll be on your feet dancing, cheering and when you have time, you’ll want to walk around and see some of the booths set up in the corridors of the stadium.
6. Bring some money – you’ll want to buy a rafiki or a We Day t-shirt.
7. Charge your phone or your camera – you’ll be using it all day.
8. Sign up for We365 – there will be moments throughout the day where you’ll be asked to use it if you can.
9. If you’re on Twitter find and follow all of the We Day speakers. They’ll be tweeting throughout the day and you’ll be able to hear from them what they are seeing, feeling and experiencing throughout the day too. Follow the We Day hashtags to connect with other change-makers in the crowd. Share what you’re seeing and feeling so that your friends who aren’t at We Day can connect too. Follow: @WeDay @CraigKielburger @Spencer2theWest @AshleyRose_FTC and me @ThatHannahAlper. The official hashtag is #WeDay.
10. Do your homework. Take some time and learn a bit about some of the speakers who will be on the We Day stage. Knowing a bit about their background and history will make seeing them speak even more special. Check out the full lineup for your We Day. Make friends with the people around you. We Day is a great time and place to make new friends who you have things in common with. A good way to break the ice is to ask questions like “who are you most excited to see today?” or “what did you do to earn your way to We Day?”
11. Tell your friends and family what We Day is all about and why you’re going. Share your inspiration, motivation and excitement with them. This stuff is contagious. Let them know that We Day will be live-streaming all day and they can tune in and watch online.
12. Watch the We Day “Born out of a Dream” video. It will get you ready (as if you’re not already).
13. Thank the volunteers, We Day team and sponsors – We Day couldn’t happen without them
14. Be proud – you’ve obviously done great things to earn your seat at We Day. You’ve worked hard to reach your goals whether that has been about raising awareness or raising money. Come on in, we’ve been waiting for you.
Being around adults enough, even I know that work is the #1 cause of stress in people. This video shows people getting rid of stress, using dogs – only they didn’t even know this was going to happen! An office was emailed to be interviewed by a news crew about stress in their work place. What they weren’t told was that it was “Take Your Dog To Work Day” and that the news crew was there to unleash the dogs in a giant happy day for everyone – including the dogs.
Hi all! Just a quick note to let you know I have a page on Facebook now! So if you use Facebook, come join me here, too!
I am so excited to be going back to the West Coast of Canada! I met so many awesome people on the We Create Change tour in Winnipeg and Calgary, and can’t wait to see you again.
On October 29, 16,000 guests will fill the MTS Centre, and witness a day of energy and inspiration. On November 3, 16,000 youth and educators will pack the Scotiabank Saddledome – I can’t wait!
And now, here is the current talent lineups for We Day Manitoba and Alberta. The lineups are…drumroll please….
We Day’s going to be inspiring because of your actions and dreams—we can’t wait to see you there!
As I get ready for We Day, I am looking forward to another season of inspiration and motivation. I am going to be sharing the stories of some of the We Day speakers here on my blog – and they are all truly inspiring and are definitely We Day worthy. Though there is one person that stands out to me the most. She is someone who is such a role model for not giving up, trying your best, giving back and to not let any obstacles get in your way. Her name is Ashley Murphy.
Ashley is 16 years old and is in grade 11. Her parents have 10 children – 8 are kids they adopted or fostered, including Ashley. She was born with HIV and was on life-support until she was five and a half months old. At one time, the doctors believed that she would not live more than a few weeks. Ashley says, “obviously, I had other plans.”
I had a chance to interview Ashley about her story, her message and her passion for my blog. I am so excited to share this with you. I know that you will love her as much as I do.
How would you describe yourself?
I am a sixteen year old girl but I’m small for my age. My friends say I am quirky, funny, loud and smart. My teachers would say I am all of those but quiet. I am a very hard worker and a loyal friend and like to stand up for what I believe in. I’m stubborn, chatty and a person who is always either laughing or smiling. I love the theatre and therefore I gesticulate a lot when I speak. One of my passions is music and singing.
I would think that most people would describe me as strong because I was born with HIV and was very frail for the first six years of my life but I battled back over and over and kept defying the odds. I always try to look on the bright side of every situation and live my life to the fullest.
Tell me about your family. :
I come from a family of ten kids and most of them have some sort of special needs or medical condition. Most have come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds and many of us have lost one or both of our birth parents to addictions.
My mom was a dental hygienist until my brother was born disabled and then she quit to take care of him and my sister. My dad is a special education teacher and they both came from big families. They couldn’t have any more kids after both were born premature and they had three miscarriages so they decided to build a big family in a different way. So they started taking in kids that others would not take. Kids in wheelchairs, kids with serious medical conditions, developmentally delayed kids and kids with behaviours.
With love and patience and a lot of teamwork all of us kids overcame some pretty big problems and bonded. We finally had a family and a permanent place in this world. We are all making a life for ourselves. My brother graduated from university in spite of serious medical challenges in his life, my sister is a paralegal and is now in school working on becoming a lawyer – after beating cancer and having a mild heart attack at nineteen, my brother who is a quadriplegic and legally blind and had a catastrophic brain injury graduated from high school and is going to go to college – not one of us is the type to give up.
At We Day last year, you talked about your family’s passion for volunteerism. What motivates you?
We know what it is like to be in a situation where we need help and we know that we are fortunate that we always had enough to eat, always had someone to talk to and play with. We knew that no matter what we did we would never be hit or abused again. Each of us kids (and our parents) have chosen to spend a good portion of our free time volunteering for organizations that mean a lot to us. We all volunteered for Easter Seals, Sick Kids, Variety Village (that is how my mom and your dad became friends when I was three), Abilities Centre and the Jennifer Ashleigh Foundation because those organizations helped many of us.
I personally also volunteered for The Teresa Group, AIDS Committee of Durham Region and AIDSWalk because they have helped me with my own health and teen groups. I volunteered to help raise money for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities in an ad campaign with Wayne Gretzky because they helped my grandparents when my aunt was getting a liver transplant.
I was extremely fortunate to go on a Me To We trip this summer to Kenya where I helped build a classroom, learned about the way of life and the way that Free The Children has impacted life for the people of Kenya. I was able to speak to HIV patients and we learned about each other’s struggles and triumphs. I fell in love with the country and its people and I hope to return someday. I am currently raising $10,000 to build another classroom and I am up to around $3000. This money is not for me to go back to Kenya; it is to fund the building of a classroom. I have donated all of my own savings to the fund as well which was $1000.
We strongly believe in giving back and in helping others as long as you are able to. Even small things add up.
What do you want people to leave We Day feeling or knowing after you speak this year?
My hope is for people to go back to their schools and communities and spread the word that HIV/AIDS is far from over, that it CAN happen to them and to know the facts. You can’t catch it from hugging or kissing someone or sharing food. I hope to decrease the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and for people to know that people who have contracted the virus are just regular people. I want people who are living with HIV to know that it is possible to live openly with the disease and be accepted and happy. I am sure that there are some people who are uncomfortable with the fact that I have this virus but I can’t let that stop me and all I can do is educate people and hope that they listen and have an open heart and mind.
Who inspires you?
Princess Diana was a big influence in my life even though she died before I was born. My mom was comfortable saying yes to taking me in directly because she saw the volunteer work that Princess Diana did with AIDS patients and figured that if she can hug them, kiss babies and show compassion then it must be safe to do so because all the security she had would not let her get hurt. It always stuck with my mom and little did she know that years later she would be asked to step in. The Children’s Aid Society called hundreds of other people and they all said no way. If Princess Diana had not been so forward thinking and brave back then, my mom might have also.
Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me since I was in grade five. I was very inspired by his teachings and his belief in non-violence and wanted to learn more. I read everything I could get my hands on, researched and watched movies and documentaries. He is my personal hero and his wife, Coretta Scott King was a big HIV/AIDS advocate back in the eighties and nineties when it was taboo to be one. I was so honoured and grateful that I was able to meet his son, Martin Luther King III twice through We Day. It is one of the biggest highlights of my life thus far.
Who are you looking forward to meeting at We Day this season?
I hope I get to meet Magic Johnson. He has been such a leader in the HIV/AIDS field and was speaking openly about it back when people wouldn’t even talk to you if you had it.
I enjoy meeting everyone that I meet and I hope that they take my message back to their own circle of friends or fans and help spread the word. In my mind they are all superstars because they are volunteering their time at We Day and helping to effect real, tangible change in the world.
Ashley is the perfect person be the first in my series of profiles for #MyYearOfAction. She and her family have taken action through compassion and volunteering in their community and Ashley has taken action by using her voice to share her story, inspire others and educate people about HIV. She is a role model for so many reasons and I hope that she has inspired you too.
Ashley has a fundraising page for the school that she is building. At the time of this post, she is almost one third of the way to her goal of raising $10,000. You can check it out and support her with a donation or leave her a message here.
This is Ashley speaking at National We Day in Ottawa 2014.
You can follow Ashley on Twitter, too https://twitter.com/AshleyRose_FTC