This post is personal; a relative goal to travel from Me to We

“A goal is a dream with a deadline”

Recently I was in a meeting where this quote was featured on a wall and I quite liked it, with my first reflections related to personal and professional goals. But soon the aptness of the quote had my thoughts turning to an exceptional person in my life, my 15-year-old niece, Sarah D. You see this niece of mine has a really big goal (and dream) in mind, with its deadline looming in a few months.

We tend to think our family—especially the younger members—are exceptionally gifted. For many reasons Sarah is a multi-talented young woman (see end of post for more details), but one thing that particularly stands out is the social conscience Sarah developed at a relatively young age.

Sarah’s current big goal—which she focuses on like a burning beacon of pure intent and steadfast determination—is to travel to Kenya for 20 days this summer to help build a school room, as a part of the Canadian (Craig and Mark Kielburger brothers’) educational initiative, the Me to We program.

Now I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Sarah’s goal from the get-go. Learning from her nana that Sarah was tasked with raising the necessary funds related to participating, giving a cash birthday present towards her “Me to We” Kenya dream was easy. But I’m hoping a more significant contribution is in offering Sarah an international PR platform where she can tell her own story about from where–and why–her social conscience and drive originates.

Pre-interview note: A couple of years ago an email message landed in my in-box from Sarah, outlining why she and three friends were participating in the CN Tower Stair Climb on behalf of the WWF and asking for a donation towards their team cause. As a communicator, I was impressed with the message’s eloquence, particularly after confirming that Sarah was both the team organizer and the author. (See A2.) We agreed that the personal-communication role (i.e., no third-party suggestions or editing) would be applied for this initiative, except this time Sarah responded to a series of questions I asked her.

Sarah’s journey towards Me to We

Q1.Sketch in the broad strokes. When did you first began to develop a social conscience (i.e., how old were you), how and why?

A1. I first began to develop a social conscience while learning about the state of the environment in eighth grade. The issue has changed how I live my life by taking the focus off convenience and paying attention to what needs to be done. The feeling that I have made a difference gave me confidence in my abilities and led me to open my mind to other opportunities, such as the Kenya volunteer trip with Me to We.

Q2. Before you became interested in participating in Me to We, what other involvement have you had in activist or social consciousness-raising activities?

A2. When I was 13, I got a few school friends together to raise money for the WWF’s CN Tower climb annual fundraiser. Together, we donated $650 with the help of family and friends. I’d never done anything like it, and I suppose I caught the volunteering bug.

Q3. Why did you select Kenya as your Me to We destination?

A3. I chose Kenya as my destination for various reasons. Firstly, the removal of school fees in Kenya in 2003 left more than 1 million willing student-aged children outside of classrooms, due to the lack of facilities and teachers. By building a school room with Me to We, I’m providing the opportunity for education for more Kenyan children. Secondly, the Masaai Mara is said to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth and I definitely want to visit it once in my life. Luckily, I have friends who have gone on the same trip as the one that I am doing, so I have already received great advice and support.

Q4. What are you participating in (or doing) before your actual visit to Kenya?

A4. Once a month, I meet with the other people participating on the trip to learn about the issues, religion, traditions and history of Kenya. By doing this, I’ll feel more prepared to face Kenya and I’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Q5. How much does will this trip cost?

A5. The cost of the trip is just over CA$5,000 .

Q6. How much have you raised so far and how have you done it?

A6. I have raised $2,500 so far by working at a restaurant on weekends and by being given birthday and Christmas gifts of money.

Q7. What do you hope to get out of this experience, both in the “larger world” sense and personally?

A7. I hope to gain a better perspective of the world. The life I live is worry-free and privileged, and unfortunately that lifestyle is not universal. By seeing the sad truth of poverty, I hope to close the link between myself and reality. I imagine this trip will inspire me to stay involved in some way for the rest of my life.

Q8. When you told (or tell) family and friends about your dream and plans, what is their reaction? How do you respond?

A8. I received different reactions from family members. My brothers were ecstatic, but my parents were slightly leery. Naturally, they were worried about my safety. With the help of friends who have already been on the same trip, my parents realized that the trip is as safe as possible. My parents were my only obstacle as my other friends were extremely supportive and have offered to help me raise the money.

Q9. Who are your heroes (i.e., inspirational figures), specifically ones related to this Me to We adventure, and why?

A9. One day, I would love to meet the Kielburger brothers. I find their personal stories and accomplishments absolutely inspiring. The legacy they have created has motivated kids everywhere to take action, just like it has me.

Likewise, when I went to a camp held by Free the Children last summer, I met the most happy and positive people I had ever seen. Some of their personal histories were incredibly sad, but still they decided to take control of their lives and make a difference in the world. For that reason, those people [I met at the Free the Children camp] are my heroes.

Q10. Have you given any thought to what you want to study in university or college? What about the type of employment you want down the road?

A10. Although I’m a few years away from university, I want to study science. As I learn more about the different streams of science, I’ll specify the kind. Right now, I am considering [studying and working in] health sciences.

Q11. Will you agree to respond to any questions or comments from our PR Conversations’ readership and (maybe) provide a follow-up post after the trip?

A11. Sure! I’ll be writing a journal through the trip, so I can also post excerpts.

Q12. Do you have a favourite aunt? If yes, which one. 🙂

A12. All three!

[What do you think, could Sarah have a default career in public relations? JG]

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Suggestions requested from PRC readers

Both the Me to We administrators/trip leaders and her parents have suggested that Sarah seek some corporate sponsorship for the remainder of her fundraising (she’s been working at that restaurant every available weekend since she was 14, purely to raise funds for this trip). Do you have any suggestions for corporations or companies that might be open to sponsoring Sarah (in part) for the remaining funds?

Also feel free to offer Sarah comments or suggestions about the trip to Kenya itself. She has a thirst to learn as much as possible about the country she will be visiting and, in particular, the people she will be meeting.

Related posts:
Supporting a dream (Heather Yaxley, Greenbanana)

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Other dimensions to Sarah

I love my niece because she is family. But the respect and admiration I hold for Sarah is due to the qualities and attributes she has exhibited from a very early age. Even in primary school, Sarah set her own agenda for self-development. Her parents (my sister and brother-in-law) are the first to admit that they’ve never had to give Sarah any direction when it came to school and homework (she’s never even asked them for homework assistance). Sarah is her own toughest critic and coach.

Sarah has always been an “A” student, even in grades 5 through 8 when she was enrolled in an Extended French school (whereby half of all classes—including science, geography, social studies and history—were 100 per cent French instruction and class interaction).

Currently Sarah is enrolled in grade 10 as a vocal major at a public secondary school for the arts located in the Greater Toronto Area (for which she had to audition for acceptance). Her grade 9 average was 92; it appears that her final grade average this year will be even higher.

Besides her grade 10 curriculum, Sarah is involved in three high school vocal groups and participates in the incredibly popular school concerts and musicals. Additionally, she auditioned and was accepted for a part in the musical being put on by an all-boys high school (her elder brother’s alma mater) this month, which involves twice-weekly, three-hour rehearsals (and a lot of time commuting). Since grade eight, Sarah has taken supplementary vocal lessons with a professional musician; in the near future she hopes to test for her Grade 8 Royal Conservatory of Music vocal test, as well as Theory 1. Younger iterations of Sarah focused on several sports, in particular figure skating lessons (her individual coach claimed Sarah had championship potential), and later competitive swimming (including winning a medal at a national-level meet in Manitoba). But having satisfied herself with achieving a high level of expertise in both sports, Sarah decided that she wanted to move on to other endeavours and challenges. (Her parents knew better than to argue.)

Sarah is sandwiched on either side by brothers. They are fiercely protective and proud of her academic achievements and talents, but also (I think) a little bit afraid of their sister Sarah’s example and determination. It’s fair to say that the entire household lives in dread of accidentally throwing out something that is either organic waste or recyclable materials, thus earning Sarah’s disappointment.

Update (March 4, 2009): Thanks to community support from a number of areas, Sarah’s Dream received enough votes (more than 100) to qualify. This means her project has a financial base on Give Meaning. I’m sure my niece will take as much delight in the note accompanying the donation from James McNally (whom neither of us know personally): “Happy to kick things off, hopefully you’ll reach and even go beyond your fundraising goal. Really glad to support you!” Thank you very much, James!

Update: With the direct help of Tom Williams (CEO of Give Meaning), Sarah now has an account in place: Sarah’s Dream to Participate in Me to We (Kenya). One proviso appears to be that her “project” must be voted acceptance (100 votes) by the Give Meaning community. So here is the appeal: please consider visiting the account and casting a vote. You will need to register on the site (very fast and easy) but you don’t need to commit to a donation. It will simply facilitate the site going “live” for those who do wish to use an online platform to contribute. (A note of thanks to Bev Bayus of John Bayus Park, who chose to mail a cheque of support to Sarah.)

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15 Replies to “This post is personal; a relative goal to travel from Me to We

  1. I was alerted to a photo posted on Craig Kielburger’s twitter account, that features Sarah hard at work, helping to build the schoolhouse. She’s the one in front, left-hand side.

    My brother-in-law also shared the group news update that was sent to all parents of teens in the Me to We Kenya trip. I am rather jealous of all of the amazing things that Sarah has already seen and done, about half-way through her visit.

    Sarah promised to write a guest blog or two once she’s home.

  2. Update (March 4, 2009): Thanks to community support from a number of areas, Sarah’s Dream received enough votes (more than 100) to qualify. This means her project has a financial base on Give Meaning. I’m sure my niece will take as much delight in the note accompanying the donation from James McNally (whom neither of us know personally): “Happy to kick things off, hopefully you’ll reach and even go beyond your fundraising goal. Really glad to support you!” Thank you very much, James!

  3. I also know Sarah personally through school. She is an amazing person. I really admire her for everything she does 🙂 Good luck sarah and always remember you are SO AWESOME! as you can probably tell from all these comments 🙂



  4. Kate – I’m very excited that this post got through to Me to We. Thank you for your guidance – I’ll talk to my trip co-ordinator.

    Heather – I’ve been looking at sites to set up an account for donations. Thank you for your suggestion and your interest in helping me raise money, and especially for your recent post on your blog. I’m very grateful for your support.

  5. Judy – would a Just Giving account be useful. I know a lot of fund-raisers in UK use this and it is a simple and quick way of those who are interested making a donation they can afford – and I think is easy to set up and monitor, etc.

    Your niece sounds great – set up the account and I’ll donate too.

  6. Thank you for sharing a bit about Sarah and her fundraising efforts for her Me to We Trip to Kenya. As my dad said, I am the Director of Leadership for Me to We and had the distinct pleasure of spending my summer with all our youth participants in Kenya. Sarah will have a wonderful time and who better to get this opportunity then such a driven and accomplished individual. I also wanted to point Sarah in the direction of our bursary and scholarship program. If she gets in contact with her trip coordinator, they will be able to explain the application process. She sounds like a superb candidate for the bursary.

    Best of luck Sarah with your fundraising! The Me to We office cannot wait to hear about your trip!



  7. Thank you very much for your support. My day was made when I came home from school and read the comments. I love hearing from you and your connections with Me to We. I will contact those of you interested in donating.


  8. I go to school with and by hearing so much about her from other classmates couldn’t be excited to find out that we shared a class together last year. Sarah is definitely one of the nicest and most reasonable students there are in our school. She picks up near by garbage that other students have left on the cafeteria lunch tables. I remember the days at the beginning of the school year where she couldn’t stop talking about the Free the Children Camp and the different ways that she was trying to convince her parents. I am so proud that she is going and can’t wait to help out. <3

  9. As there appears to be some interest, I’ve just sent Older Brother (aka Darcy) an email, suggesting he help his sister in setting up a PayPal account (or something similar).

    And it’s true that Sarah’s brothers are totally there for her. I just heard from her nana (this afternoon) that Younger Brother spent one weekend shovelling a ton of neighbours’ driveways (back-breaking work) and when he came home he gave Sarah half of his day’s earnings, to put towards her Me to We Kenya trip.

    Very nice to see support and encouragement from Bev Bayus and Fraser Likely. Plus Sarah’s friend, F.Kay. I’ve been noticing *a lot* of links coming in from Facebook today, so I suspect some serious Gen Y-style communicating about this post has been going on today. Which is great. Particularly as I bet none of you had ever heard of, let alone visited, our PR Conversations blog before. Welcome and come again!

  10. It is incredible how much Sarah has matured in her last few years. Not to say there was ever a point where I would consider her immature, but rather her recognition of problems and issues that often go unnoticed by older generations is truly something to admire. She has overthrown many of the cultural tendencies that plague society today (I.e. disregarding the difference between a recycling bin and a garbage can) and refuses to acknowledge the notion of obstacle. Watching her trudge to work on Saturday mornings while most 15 year olds relish in those extra few hours of sleep can’t help but make me feel envious of her devotion. To truly be committed to such a great cause at a young age intimidates me, even as her older brother. She has changed me, quite passive-aggressively, from a person who would leave any light on or run any tap of water to a person that thinks twice–a gift that continues to give everyday of my life. I would like to say thank you Sarah, for being one of my greatest friends, and for refusing to remain apathetic about some of the world’s greatest problems. I know you are going to make a difference in the world, because your attitude alone has already changed the people around you. Thank you Sarah, I’m here for you always.


  11. I know Sarah personally as a school friend and I think that she is an exceptional person! Her trip to Kenya is soo inspirational!! I wish her well and I would love to contruibute to her cause…where do I send the cheque?
    <3 a friend <3

  12. Craig Kielburger and his brother Marc are outstanding individuals, representing what’s positive about Gen Yers. Over 300 schools built in developing countries the last 10 years, with an assortment of many other noteworthy achievements. Their Free the Children / Me to We charity in Canada partnered with Oprah’s O Ambassadors in the US last year to bring the concept to the US on a large scale. My daughter works for Me to We in Toronto. If your niece had been to Kenya last summer she would have met her – since she was doing the organizing on the ground in Kenya (in Nairobi and the Masaai Mara) for all the groups that came in. It will be a memorable experience for your niece. What a wonderful person to put her social conscience into actual action – on so many fronts.

  13. I used to teach about Craig Kielburger’s work in my geography class and my school has done the “Build a school” in Africa. While preparing our school for the fund-raising, one of Craig’s associates, a very personable and capable young man, was on his way from Eastwood to his next stop in Buffalo, and was tragically killed in a car crash. Craig was moved by our students response to the sudden loss of such a talented young man, that he took the time from his universities studies to come to speak at Eastwood. It certainly was a memorable experience.
    John Bayus Park Ltd. would like to help sponsor Sarah. Where do I send the cheque?

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