People who ventured over to the Co-op Mall a couple of weeks ago may have seen a rather unusual sight.
On May 3, about 35 students from WL McLeod School could be seen, sitting silently, many with strips of tape over their mouths.
But not to worry. This was not a new form of discipline for children who act up in class.
“It was all part of our Me to We group at the school,” explained teacher, Michelle Miller-Gauthier.
“This is a school group that is trying to do their part to make the world s a better place by helping people both locally and internationally.”
It’s all part of a much larger movement known as the WE Charity, formerly known as Free The Children. That’s a worldwide development charity and youth empowerment movement founded in 1995 by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger.
“We silenced our voices during recess and lunch times to represent those children who do not have a right to use their voices to make a change in their lives,” said Miller-Gauthier, adding that the group’s “Vow of Silence day was intended to raise awareness about the millions of children, worldwide, who do not have access to a quality education or any education at all.
“In some countries where clean water is an issue, children spend the day hauling water from distant sources, so they simply don’t have the time to go to school,” she said.
According to Miller-Gauthier, other children are forced into working in order to help sustain their families. Others, she said, are taken to be child soldiers.
In other countries, she said, it’s the female children who are cheated of an education because local laws religions or customs prohibit girls from attending school beyond puberty.
In virtually all of these cases it would be extremely dangerous for children to express their opposition to their fate and attempt to stand up for themselves.
“They don’t have a voice, and we’re trying to raise awareness about that state of affairs,” said Miller-Gauthier.
Beyond raising awareness, the group organizes a variety of fund raising efforts with the funds going to help provide clean water to families in Kenya. The intention is that this funding will contribute to initiatives to help families have ready access to water, this freeing the children from their work hauling water and allowing them to attend school.
“It’s really quite amazing,” said Miller-Gauthier. “It takes so little money to make a huge difference”.
The children marched to the Co-op Mall carrying signs that explained what they were all about, and once there they sat silently for about 15 to 20 minutes in the centre court in front of the grocery.
“Every so often someone would read the signs and drop a donation, and the kids couldn’t say thank you, so they applauded instead,” said Miller Gauthier. “Within that 20 minutes we raised $82 for our cause,” said Miller-Gauthier. “But that’s significant because you have to remember that, in Kenya, as little as $50 can provide clean water for two people for life.”
Although this is the group’s first Vow of Silence event, the Me to We students have in the past held bake sales, homemade craft sales and auctions, and even a Beaver Tail Bake for Change event.
The group includs children ranging in age from grade two to grade six, and Miller Gauthier admits that the younger children may not have a total grasp of some of the issues being addressed by their actions.
“I think that even the younger ones understand the broad strokes of what this is all about. Certainly by the time they are in grades five or six they understand very well. If we accomplish nothing more than raising that awareness about the issues in our children, then our program is a success no matter how much money we raise,” said Miller-Gauthier.