Backstage at We Day Atlantic Canada

December 10, 2014

I had the privilege of being the backstage photographer for We Day in Halifax on November 29th. Thousands of school kids wearing fluorescent swarmed the Scotiabank Centre, took selfies and pumped their fists. We Day is a multi-media, presentation, educational talk and music concert hosted by the Kielburger brothers of Me to We and Free the Children that aims to teach young people about the power of social change.

Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and Hannah Alper, 11-year old blogger, inspirational speaker and youth activist, give the We Day salute before going onstage.

Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and Hannah Alper, 11-year old blogger, inspirational speaker and youth activist, give the We Day salute before going onstage.

It was lovely to see so many inspiring figures interacting with and supporting each other as they prepared to take the stage to talk to the thousands of youth who had come out to see them.  Backstage is all harsh overhead lighting and concrete floors, so as photographer you focus on the real moments between performers and support staff, instead of waiting for someone to step into their perfect light. 

Of course, I snuck out through the wings a couple times to capture the crowd as well.

One of the things that really struck me as I was taking pictures of the crowd was media power. Everyone had their phones or tablets out and were tweeting, tagging, instagraming, etc. Big productions like this can gather huge media inertia for free by simply telling the crowd, “Don’t forget to #MeToWe”. There’s a great marketing lesson right there. 

Overall it was a great experience, albeit exhausting. I came home afterwards and curled up for an hour-long nap before even downloading the photos onto my laptop.

If you’d like to get involved in a We Day production, you can follow this link to get more information about volunteering

There are always pros and cons with the nuanced issue of international aid, and We Day is no exception. Yes, We Day is a show developed primarily for children, but children are intelligent and there was no talk about the grey areas of international development (i.e., questions of sustainability, the tendency of relief efforts to grow colonialist overtones, poverty tourism for privileged kids, etc.).  The harder stuff. It’s easy to jump on a bandwagon when someone tells you your actions are doing unequivocal good.  Thinking about these potential issues can exhaust you to the point where you don’t know what to think any more, and can drain the enthusiasm right out of a potential donor.  

Craig Kielburger’s undergraduate degree is in social justice from University of Toronto, but he also has a Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA and a lot of corporate sponsorships. Me to We is definitely trying to sell you their brand of aid. All their marketing power and ability to sell progressive ethics would go right out the door if they started talking about all the real social, ethical and anthropological issues that foreign aid workers, politicians and academics deal with on a daily basis.  

That being said, it would be arrogant to think that nobody in the audience recognized that, and perhaps some of their futures lie in helping to figure out a way to create better solutions in lieu of large-scale, expensive celebrity-endorsed productions that teach kids to expect rewards (t-shirts, rafiki bracelets, tickets to We Day) in exchange for good deeds. It can be frustrating trying to unpack all the issues that We Day can represent.

We Day undoubtably has positive effects too – it is an exciting, eye-opening experience and does get kids excited about helping people, growing global social networks and believing that they can change the world. It’s not an issue where there’s a clear-cut right or wrong answer, and that’s what makes it so difficult for me to put my foot down on exactly how I feel about We Day. I am glad a did this one, but I don’t think I’d do it again.

    What do you think?

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