07/02/2012 11:56 EDT | Updated 09/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Why I Love Canada: We Roll Up Our Sleeves


In 2000, Molson's iconic advertising campaign "I Am Canadian" became a patriotic touchstone, a widely-quoted definition of what we are as Canadians. We are not Americans. We know what a chesterfield and a toque are. We love hockey. We say "about," not "aboot." And no, we don't know every Jimmy, Sally and Suzy who lives in Canada.

"My name is Joe, and I am Canadian!" or so it went.

Recently, Craig co-chaired a fundraising gala held by Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, and presented a toast to our country. The other co-chair, a 13-year-old named Hannah Godefa, made us think that Joe Canadian had perhaps overlooked some of our nation's greatest attributes.

Hannah is the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants. When she was seven, her parents took her on a trip back to their birthplace, the town of Axum. There she befriended a girl, and when it came time to return to Canada, Hannah suggested they become pen pals.

Her father gently explained that would be impossible: There were no pencils or other school supplies for the girl to write back with.

Hannah was dumbfounded. How was it possible that she could have so many pencils lying around her room while her friend had none?

Back in Canada, Hannah launched the Pencil Mountain initiative to gather pencils and school supplies for Ethiopian schools. Six years later her initial goal of 20,000 pencils is nearing half a million and Hannah heads her own charitable foundation.

A born orator, she speaks across the country, motivating other young Canadians to create positive change.

For us, Hannah represents the essence of being Canadian. She is warm, polite and humble, but also dedicated, hard-working, and passionate about helping others. She loves Canada while maintaining a personal connection to the rich cultural heritage of her roots.

In Canada we have built a nation replete with social protections to ensure our citizens can enjoy a high quality of life. It's not perfect. Far too many still slip through the safety nets. Yet when they do, ordinary Canadians fill the gap through national and local organizations, and with their own individual efforts.

Likewise, Canadian shave earned an international reputation for extending a hand wherever it is needed, anywhere around the globe.

Even the event where we met Hannah was a testament to that spirit. The annual Mayor's Gala raises funds for more than two dozen local community groups. This year more than $600,000 was donated for local organizations including youth and seniors groups, services for people with special needs, women's centres, special education schools, and arts and culture organizations.

Through our many journeys, both within Canada and abroad, we've discovered that Canada is much more than hockey and Timbits. Nor does our greatness in the eyes of the world come from stable banks or a strong economy.

Our country is the greatest place in the world to live because of our compassion, friendliness and willingness to roll up our sleeves to help.

Our country is great because of compassionate youth like Hannah, or Wes Prankard, who started camp-outs that raise millions to build playgrounds for kids in remote Canadian aboriginal communities. They serve their communities before they are even able to drive a car or vote. Our country is strong because of Canadians like Terry Fox and Rick Hansen who overcome their own limitations to create hope for others. Our country has value because of every Canadian aid worker toiling in a remote African village and every Canadian giving hours of their precious free time to serve food in a local soup kitchen.

So this Canada Day long weekend, we can't think of a more patriotic way to celebrate our country than to toast Hannah Canadian:

"Hey. My parents weren't born here, but Canada is my home.

We do live in a house and eat nutritious food, and own what we need.

And I don't know Mohammed or Abebe from Ethiopia,

but I'd like to make sure they have a home, food and what they need too.

I have a government that looks after our health and welfare.

I speak English and French, and the language of my parents,

and no-one holds it against me.

I can humbly sew a blanket for a homeless person who needs it.

I believe in volunteering and sharing

diversity and acceptance,

and that giving is a truly proud and noble act.

A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch,

and I will not mock, even if you pronounce the words with an accent.

Canada has the largest heart,

is the first nation of helping,

and the most compassionate part of North America!

My name is Hannah, and I am Canadian!"

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free The Children, and are authors of the new book Living Me to We: The Guide for Socially Conscious Canadians