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'It changed my life'
NWT students inspired and motivated by youth conference

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seated amongst 16,000 cheering youth, Gus Mandeville said he was inspired by the significance of the messages he was hearing.

NNSL photo/graphic

From left, Gus Mandeville, Joseph Antoine, Melvin Vital and Lloyd Lafferty, sit among a throng of youth at the We Day event in Winnipeg on Nov. 23. The NWT students listened to inspirational speeches from Mia Farrow, Al Gore, Paul Martin, Rick Hansen and others, as part of an event aimed to get youth involved in making social change. - photo courtesy of Dan Summers

“It changed my life,” said Mandeville, 17, a Grade 11 student at Deninu School in Fort Resolution.

Mandeville, along with Lloyd Lafferty from Fort Resolution, Joseph Antoine of Fort Providence and Melvin Vital of Fort Simpson, took part in the We Day conference held at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Nov. 23.

Using heavyweight motivational speakers, We Day -- a movement founded by Craig and Marc Kielburger in 2007 -- attempts to raise awareness to a variety of current social justice issues and encourages youth to get involved in initiating social change.

The Winnipeg event featured speeches from actress Mia Farrow, former United States vice-president Al Gore, former-Canadian prime minister Paul Martin and motivational speaker Rick Hansen.

The organization’s website boasts that, last year, it raised more than $5.4 million for various initiatives, collected 519,000 pounds in food donations and organized more than 1.7 million youth volunteer hours internationally.

Mandeville said a story from Michel Chikwanine, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stuck with him.

He said Chikwanine remained silent during his presentation, choosing to hold up cards for the attendees to read.

“He was telling us a story about when he was taken away by a mercenary and they made him shoot his friend," he said. "That was pretty harsh.”

Dan Summers, Deninu School principal, said it was a powerful moment, with 16,000 youth becoming so quiet that “you could hear a nickel drop” in the arena.

The conference aims to have youth return to their communities and volunteer for a local and a global cause. Mandeville said he will “go around and get canned food for the food bank.” He said he also planned on talking about the child soldier issue in his community, adding that he’d also take the 24-hour vow of silence, which is something he learned from Chikwanine. The vow allows a person to reflect on their beliefs and values about people and think about what ways they can support others.

Mandeville said another speaker, Spencer West, resonated with him. At the age of five, West lost his legs and much of his torso following an operation due to a genetic disease but remains determined to climb Mount Kilimanjaro -- a feat he plans to attempt next summer. Mandeville said West would have to ascend the mountain using only his arms, chest and head.

Mandeville found West’s refusal to shrink away from the challenge, despite the odds, inspiring.

“It’s an awakening of the spirit, so that kids could be aware that these things are happening around the world,” Summers said, adding he was particularly touched by Gore's speech on the environment.

The four students were selected for the conference due to their involvement with the Keepers Leadership Program.

“It’s a really fun program to do, because you get to go out and do all this other stuff like travelling around the world," said Mandeville.

The group went on an eight-day canoe trip from Fort Providence to Wrigley last July.

“It was hard, but fun,” said Mandeville, who added the program afforded him the opportunity to meet Antoine, Vital and Lafferty prior to the We Day conference. He said the group bonded further during their time in Winnipeg, from Nov. 21 to 24.

As an added bonus, Mandeville got to meet actors from Degrassi: The Next Generation, and bands Hedley, Down with Webster and Neverest, all of whom were staying on the same hotel floor as them.

“We just talked about all of their new songs that are going to be coming out and stuff,” he said, adding he got to hear a few new songs before their public release.

The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, NorthwesTel and Youth Services in Fort Resolution funded the trip.

Summers said many Deninu School students are hoping to make the trip next year.

“Be assured, next year we will be sending a much larger group,” he said.

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