VANCOUVER -- For the past half-decade, Free The Children’s We Day youth rallies have been slowly spreading across Canada. Beginning in Toronto in 2007, this year they’ll be gathering teen activists in ten cities from Vancouver to Halifax. And starting in 2013 — thanks to Holly Branson, a doctor, humanitarian, and the daughter of Virgin mogul Richard Branson — We Day will be taking place o’er the pond.
"Next academic year, we’re going to be doing it in London at Wembley Arena,” Branson told Huffington Post Canada Impact, just before announcing it to 20,000 screaming Vancouver kids. “The amazing Free the Children team has been doing their school network program in about three hundred schools around the U.K. and we’re looking for talent and inspirational speakers.”
That, of course, shouldn’t be a problem for the Free the Children folks, whose events have featured such bigwigs as Al Gore, Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Martin Sheen, Justin Trudeau and Bieber.
“Kids all around the world are pretty similar and if you get the right acts and right speakers then they’ll be there to get inspired and make a difference,” said Branson, who acts as a Free the Children Ambassador.
When asked what she thinks the main difference might be between a UK and Canadian We Day, Branson smiled and said, “I’m not sure I can see the U.K. kids being as patriotic as the Canadian kids. I love it when you go onstage and say ‘Hey Canada’ and everyone shouts and cheers. And I’m not sure if you go out and say ‘Hey U.K.’ people will do the same.”
SEE: The stars at We Day Vancouver 2012. Story continues below:
But Branson says the issues will be the same, from hunger and poverty to bullying, the latter of which became a theme at the Vancouver’s We Day as the 20,000 teenagers in attendance were still reeling from the recent suicide of bullying victim Amanda Todd.
“I think We Day is trying to inspire inclusion and you’ve got to make people aware of these issues and it’s very sad what happened. So we’re going to make people aware that bullying happened and trying to stop children from bullying by hearing these real-life stories at a child’s level.”
One thing that does differentiate U.K. and Canadian kids is the 2011 riots that began in London and caught fire, literally, across England as poverty-stricken youth expressed their hopelessness in the worst way imaginable.
“I think the young people in the U.K., it’s a vicious cycle of not feeling empowered to do anything within their community. Our community system is completely broken down and you need to build that back up again and make people feel that they can make a change in life and not just sit around playing video games or on their iPhones, that they can get out there and make a difference. I think if anyone has something to motivate them, then that will stop that — and We Day does that. It creates community and I really hope it will work. It was really sad about the riots and we want to try to stop that.”
Branson also sees We Day as an opportunity to build on the positive feelings engendered by this past summer’s successful Olympic Games, and hopes to book some of the local athletes as speakers.
“The Olympics was something amazing for the U.K. in bringing people together and giving the population hope,” she says, especially “seeing lots of sportsmen from the communities that were rioting and how they’ve come really far in their life. It gives people something to be inspired by.”