Hundreds of young voices became one, filling the air with hope and dreams of change: "We can make a difference,” they chanted. “We have a global responsibility! We can make a difference!"
The chanting, led by a former child soldier turned Canadian citizen, was part of a global responsibility conference that attracted an estimated 600-strong crowd comprised of both community members and more than a dozen local schools. They all gathered under one roof on Oct. 2 to hear dedicated altruists discuss global issues like poverty, war and disease while learning what ordinary people, young and old, can do to make a difference in an ailing world.
Held at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom and hosted by the Selwyn House School (SHS), the four-hour conference, called "Educating Youth for Global Responsibility," opened students' eyes to humankind's uncertain future and the desperate need for philanthropic action. The event was one of the final components of SHS's yearlong centennial celebration that recognizes the school's Nov. 26, 1908 founding.
"We want our graduates go out into the world as responsible, independent learners," said SHS Headmaster William Mitchell, noting the school donated $500 to each presenter's cause. "Our focus is to prepare kids for the world they are going to inherit. It's all about exposing students to community service and worthwhile projects that give back to the community and the larger world."
Teaching students about the seriousness of global issues while inspiring them to take an active role in bettering the world through community service has long been apart of SHS’s educational goals and, with the centennial year in mind, the school has, over the past year, invested in globally-themed events to accent altruistic ideals and inspire understanding of what humanity is going through as the human population skyrockets, resources dry up and pollution plagues the environment.
At the conference, there were two panels of humanitarians. The first panel included David Danylewich (Director of Field Operations at Right to Play), Patrick Duplat (advocate at Refugees International), Emily Bass (Program Director of AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition) and Alexandre Trudeau (documentary producer and former director of Canada World Youth).
"You are embarking on a period that is really one of the great turning points in history," Trudeau said. "The last two to three centuries of western dominance of the planet is coming to an end. Our might is now being challenged. We are now living in a world where global resources are limited more so now than ever before ... We, in western countries, have to decide what our legacy is going to be and how we are going to share global resources. There is no way that we can sustain the level of comfort that we have."
Since Alusine Bah's arrival in Montreal, he has dedicated himself to raising funds to build schools and a community well in his hometown of Yengema in West Africa's Sierra Leone. Bah, who was rescued from soldiering at age 16, spoke of being separated from his family in the early 1990s and of the two years he spent as a teenage militant. He also spoke about his transition from life in Africa to life here in Canada.
"I was trained to use weapons like the AK-47," said Bah, a Canadian citizen since January. "I had to do what I was told or I would have been shot and killed. I have seen things impossible for you to imagine ... Now I live in a country where, when I walk down the street in downtown Montreal, I don't have to constantly look to my back. I now live in a country where I don't have to worry that someone will knock at my door and kill me. But we have to understand that what we have in this country, other parts of the world do not. Where we can turn on our taps and let the water run for hours, there are people in some places that struggle for just one cup."
After four SHS graduates spoke of their charitable work around the globe, a second panel was introduced. The panel included Jennifer Heil (an Olympic gold medallist dedicated to the community), Dario Iezzoni (Vice President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Montreal) and Joelle Berdugo Adler (founder of ONEXONE).
"We have the power to make profound change," Adler said. "Let's park our egos at the door and get out there and do it. The circle of poverty is the greatest proponent of violence. As long as we don't erase poverty in the world, we will be supporting the global rise of war and terrorism."