Wednesday November 26, 2014

Shameless idealists infect Yorkton schools


Free the Children leadership facilitator Tania Cheng speaks during the keynote address at Yorkton Regional High School May 8.

 - YRHS leadership workshop participants engage in a team-building exercise. -

YRHS leadership workshop participants engage in a team-building exercise.

It began as every Free the Children (FTC) event does. Youthful representatives of the international charity, full of almost unnatural enthusiasm, whipped up the crowded auditorium at Yorkton Regional High School into a frenzy of goodwill toward the less fortunate at home and abroad.

Michael Lorsch and Tania Cheng, two FTC leadership facilitators, were in Yorkton last week talking food security and leading local volunteers in leadership workshops.

Cheng said the energy and enthusiasm is very real.

"I think when you have the opportunity to do what you love to do and your career is your passion, it's natural," she said. "We're also very lucky that we work in a young, lively atmosphere where a lot of our colleagues are energetic people and passionate about what they do and it's infectious."

Anybody who has ever seen FTC founder Craig Kielberger in action will know exactly what she is talking about.

To warm up the students for their keynote address May 8, Lorsch and Cheng simulated a rainstorm by dividing the theatre into sections. One section started by snapping their fingers. The next rubbed their hands together. The third slapped their thighs, then everybody stomped their feet.

The combined effect was stunningly reminiscent of rain eliciting gasps of "wow" and "so cool."

It had the desired effect, Lorsch said.

"Its very easy, especially for high school students to say, 'I'm not going to participate,' but when they see their friends doing this [slaps thighs] and just getting kind of excited, I feel like it opens them up to what we're here to talk about," he explained.

And the activity is not just a parlour trick, Cheng said.

"We thought it fits very well with our theme of drought and rain and agriculture," she said. "And it sort of is a metaphor for our idea that each one of us, individually, it seems like we can't do very much, but together, when we put all of our voices together, we can make it rain.

Lorsch and Cheng have been touring for months helping local organizers keep up the momentum generated by the Saskatoon We Day event in February that was attended by 15,000 students from across the province.

Their workshops give local volunteers the tools they need to turn intentions into actions.

"Shameless idealism is one of the characteristics of our organization," Lorsch said. "It's in one of our core values of what the organization is about. I think in this room today, we have some shameless idealists in here. It's one of the cool things about young people especially, is they have this shameless idealism about them. It's powerful and if we can harness that into some kind of movement or direction, it can be used to do a lot of good."

One of those shameless idealists—one might even say the public high school's head shameless idealist—is Kennedy Todosichuk, who formed the FTC group at YRHS with the help of staff advisor Carma Lee Doupe.

"I felt that our school, because it's a large school and there's also spirit here, would do very well to better our community because Free the Children doesn't just work globally, it also does a lot of work within the community to make it better at home then expand out," Todosichuk said.

Todosichuk was thrilled with the results of last week's visit.

 - Cheng gets the students at Yorkdale Central School moving to begin a day of events May 10. -

Cheng gets the students at Yorkdale Central School moving to begin a day of events May 10.

Up until today, nobody really knew about Free the Children, and the people who did know about it, they didn't want to get involved," she said. "After Mike and Tania's speech this morning there were so many students that came to the front and so many people approached me in the hallway that want to get involved."

And while she has personally been raising money for Free the Children, she wants to spread her activism. The presentation Wednesday inspired her with the idea of doing a similar outreach from the high school to the elementary schools in the Good Spirit School Division (GSSD).

"There's something about having a young person come and speak to you, that's why I love having Tania and Mike here," she said.

"They're in their twenties, we can still relate to them and having high school students talk to elementary school students, it's relatable, you want to listen to them. It's better than having some 30- or 40-year-old come in blabbing on. It's like having your mom talk to you versus your cool cousin or something."

Dwayne Reeve, GSSD director of education, said the division would be open to the idea adding eight schools have already been involved in We Day activities.

"We haven't been approached yet, but if there's a way we can, we definitely will," he said. "It's been very positive for a lot of folks."

In fact, two days after their appearance at YRHS, Lorsch and Cheng did the same program for Yorkdale Central School. Students from Yorkdale have been involved with the charity for two years including attending three separate We Day events.

Yorkdale Central students have raised thousands of dollars for Free the Children causes including $1,000 in February of this year with a penny drive that will provide 40 people in the third world with clean water for life.

Lorsch praised local FTC activists saying they are finding a way to harness their youthful voices and use them for good.

"I think every young person wants to do that, and I feel like I've accomplished something if we've figured out a way to help them along with that," he said.

Todosichuk, who is currently in Grade 11, already has her sights set beyond high school.

"I'd really like to go and build a school, or go into a community and actually experience what it's like to live in a third world country and see the joy on a mother's face when she's finally able to feed her children and give them the food quality they deserve," she said.

"One of my main passions in life is equal opportunity for everyone because one person should not be denied the opportunity to go and get an education and not one person should be denied the basic human right of being able to eat."



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