From a young age, I have been involved in giving back in my community. As an elementary school student, I remember serving coffee and helping host dinners at the Mustard Seed, an organization that addresses the basic needs of homeless individuals. Although I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer as a child, I was particularly impacted by a television broadcast of We Day in 2008. Since then, I continued to volunteer at soup kitchens and charity fundraisers; however, my direct involvement with Free the Children, We Day and more specifically, the We365 app did not begin until high school.
At St. Francis High School in Calgary, I was an active member of a club called Community of Caring (CCC). Students involved in this group participate in many events, including We Are Silent, a 24-hour anti-bullying campaign, and We Scare Hunger, a Halloween event to collect items for the local food bank. Because of my involvement in CCC, I was selected to attend the first We Day in Alberta in 2012 with my school. The incredible experience of participating as a guest motivated me to volunteer at We Day the following year. We Day Alberta 2013 focused on education, and it was one of the most humbling and motivating experiences that contributed to my passion for education rights, which are considered by Free The Children as one of the five pillars for international development.
Shortly after attending We Day, I was compelled to create a student group aimed at promoting the well-being and education of girls -- a cause I am very passionate about. Through our events, we raised enough money to fund the salary of a teacher in rural Afghanistan for a year, as well as increase the awareness of education disparity within the Calgary community.
However, I wanted to do more and when the We365 app, created by Free The Children and TELUS, launched last year, I downloaded it right away. Even though We Day only happens once a year, We365 keeps the momentum going all year round. I will proudly admit that I don't leave the house without my phone. As a young adult who lives in our cyber-focused world, technology is such an integral part of my life as well as the lives of many other teens. That's why We365 is a great thing for our generation because it reminds us about the importance of giving back, and using our phones for good in an accessible way. Plus there are some great perks! Last year I participated in a challenge on the app and earned the opportunity to have Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free The Children, come to my school to talk to my peers! This experience validated the importance of staying connected while linking community service to causes we are passionate about. I continue to use the We365 app as a means of fueling my enthusiasm and creativity of finding new ways of getting involved in the community.
I currently volunteer with Link-ages, Canadian Blood Services, and the Mustard Seed. I am still exploring the many causes I am passionate about, and over the next few years, I would like to get involved in research regarding global health disparity and how health is affected by alternative income programs. Recently, I participated in a World Health Organization simulation called CalWHO where we discussed health education. Our approved resolutions are being sent to Geneva, where they might be included in the WHO charter! Some awesome insight into how global health is being transformed by social media can be found here.
The main reason why I value my experiences with Free The Children so greatly is because the organization has encouraged me to do even more in my community and has helped shape my passion for activism and human rights. Even if I am able to do something small, I think the outcome of a single action can have a huge, positive impact on an entire community.
Recently, Craig Kielburger, the co-founder of Free the Children, came to my university as a keynote speaker. He quoted Mother Theresa: "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." These words sum up why I value volunteering. You can't be everything to everyone, but one, small action is all it takes to impact at least one person in a meaningful way.
Marissa Nahirney is a University of Calgary Health Sciences student who is passionate about medical sciences, Ukrainian dancing and social justice initiatives.