Burke said darkness was her reality.
She was speaking at Saskatchewan’s first We Day, an annual event held across Canada by the charity Free the Children. The day, held on Feb. 27 this year, is meant to inform youth about global issues and inspire them to make a change. A few friends and I volunteered for the event and can definitely say it was an experience none of us will soon forget.
Burke has been blind since she was 14. She told the audience that she was bullied in high school, and shared one particularly enduring story that has stuck with her.
When she was a teenager in high school she was asked by the popular kids to meet on school grounds. At the time, Burke had a broken ankle and was using crutches to get around. She waited for the kids where they asked her to meet and, as she sat on the ground, heard the sound of her crutches being taken and smashed against the bark of a tree as well as the echoing laughter of the culprits.
As Burke told the audience this story, she asked us to relive the experience of that day with her in a moment of silence — or seven seconds, to be exact.
The idea that people can be so selfish and apathetic is something we have all come to accept.
In that stadium, as I was hearing about all the worst parts of Burke’s life, I came to realize that I was immersed at that very moment in all the best parts of the world.
15,000 kids were in the CUC with me that day because they, like all of us, acknowledge that this world isn’t perfect, and they want to make it better for both their future and ours.
Each seat in the arena was filled by someone who set out to make a difference both locally and internationally.
As a volunteer, I was asked to tell students that in each of their goody bags on their seats there was a necklace in the shape of a water droplet that they should wear. During a performance by One Drop, a part of the Cirque du Soleil foundation, each necklace began glowing in the dark arena.
The water drops were a reflection of a current Free the Children campaign in which pennies, now out of commission in Canada, can be collected in bags and donated to any RBC branch. Each bag of pennies will then be used to supply one person with water for the rest of his or her life.
Each one of those glowing drops that hung around our necks was our pledge to give back to a world that has given us so much.
At We Day, Free The Children founders Craig and Mark Kielburger impressed upon attendees that each of us can make a difference — though their message was best exemplified by the event’s performers.
We Day included performances from entertainers like Hedley, Shawn Desmond and Karl Wolf, and speeches from Martin Sheen as well as Aislinn Paul and Luke Bilyk from Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Yet even among those big names, crowd favourites were rising stars Lil JaXe and Sydney Brouillard-Coil.
JaXe, a 13-year-old boy who has blown away celebrities like Drake with his talents, has a severe stutter that actually disappears when he raps.
Brouillard-Coil, a 12-year-old girl who wants to become the next prime minister because she sees the issues this world is facing, is unfaltering in her belief that she can make both Canada and the world a better place.
Illustration: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf