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Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is one of the guests at the We Day festivities in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2013. (CHRIS HADFIELD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is one of the guests at the We Day festivities in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2013. (CHRIS HADFIELD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

We Day draws activists to Toronto with emphasis on ‘engaging young people to care’ Add to ...

Ten-year-old Hannah Alper’s role model is Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani education activist who survived a Taliban attempt on her life as she rode the bus home from school at age 15.

“She’s amazing. They thought they could silence her and they didn’t,” said Hannah, a Grade 5 student in Richmond Hill, Ont.

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Hannah will address a crowd of 20,000 in Toronto on Friday as a “youth ambassador” at We Day. Students and teachers from 950 schools across the GTA will descend on the Air Canada Centre for the annual youth activism event, launched in 2007 by Free the Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger.

Presenters this year range from pop singer Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and retired astronaut Chris Hadfield. Students can’t buy tickets to the event, but instead earn their way in to the party by volunteering with at least one local and one global initiative. The We Day celebrations this year will attract more than 160,000 students from 4,000 schools. Young people from nine Canadian cities including Vancouver and Halifax will participate, as well as kids in London, England, Seattle and Minnesota.

“Our whole mission is about engaging young people to care,” Craig Kielburger said.

Friday’s event in Toronto will also see young guests signing up for We365, a new social media platform for kid activists spearheaded by Free the Children and Telus. Launching Oct. 18, the free website and mobile app will let young people record their volunteer hours, post photos and videos of their latest good deeds on a “cause feed,” share inspirational quotes and rally their friend networks to fundraise for a favourite charity.

“What Facebook is to all your friends, what LinkedIn is to your business history, this is your … platform for doing good,” said Mr. Kielburger, who sees We365 accounts serving as a verifiable “social impact portfolio” that can beef up kids’ resumés, university and scholarship applications.

For now, Hannah’s pet causes include child labour and social justice.

“All the causes need to be stood up for,” she said. “The 20,000 young people that will fill the Air Canada Centre, their voices are being heard.”

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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