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we day 2018

The Lowther family stops for a photo while on safari in Kenya’s Maasai Mara during a ME to WE Family Trip last March.

The Globe and Mail and WE Charity are partners on a range of content and initiatives, including WE Day at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sept. 20. This story is part of a special report on the organization and the event.

While lots of Canadians are putting their hearts and energy into WE Charity and its work; some, like the Lowther family, are taking the “we” part literally.

“We went on a family trip to Kenya with WE last March break,” says Deb Lowther, a resident of Burlington, Ont., and mother of three daughters; 16-year-old Julia, Brooke, 15 this fall, and Amy, 12.

“We was always on my radar,” says Deb. What she didn’t realize at first was in addition to ME to WE, there’s also “us to we” – programs, including travel, where families can participate in We together.

“When I learned we could take a family trip we jumped at the opportunity,” Deb says. The Lowthers’ trip, like others, was designed so families can travel together and have an immersive experience.

Participating families not only spend quality time with each other, they also work alongside local community members on a sustainable development project and they witness first-hand how communities can come together to break the cycle of poverty.

“When we got to Kenya, we learned just how appropriate our trip was,” Deb says.

“The Kenyan students we worked with and who showed us around on our school-building program were all in Grades 9 and 10 – and so were two of my daughters.”

The opportunity for family bonding, plus meeting young people her own age, left a big and lasting impression on Julia.

“One day we had just come back from the ME to WE farm. We were led by the Grade 9 and 10 students from one of the girls’ schools,” the 16-year-old says.

“As we were walking, we got to talking. I really connected with one girl and we started connecting our lives. What I learned is how it’s very fortunate for girls to go to school in Kenya, while we take it for granted,” Julia says.

She discovered it can cost a student her age $3,000 a year to go to school in Kenya.

“It’s something we don’t even think of in Canada,” she adds – though she does now, because she has started her own fundraising for girls’ education.

Julia, Brooke and Amy all attended WE Day Family Toronto in 2016 and 2017 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (formerly Air Canada Centre) and they’re all volunteering at WE Day Toronto at the arena on Sept. 20.

The Lowther family spend time with students at Kisaruni All-Girls Secondary School’s Milimani campus while on a ME to WE Family Trip last March.

Another family, the Abbouds, who live in Toronto, also has become hooked on the family experiences that We offers.

“We started by going to WE Days when the girls were young,” says Jitanjli Abboud, who first travelled to Kenya with WE in 2014 with her husband, Richard, and their daughters Natalie and Nadia.

“About six months after WE Day, our family started to get involved. Then in 2014 we did our first family trip, when the girls were 8 and 10,” Jitanjli says.

“Then we got our friends involved, so this year we took two other families with us. We all really wanted to share experiences with our kids so we would understand what they experience.”

Seeing the impact that WE projects have in communities has led to the family to getting more involved, Richard says.

“What impressed me is the way they go about doing things, the thoughtfulness. WE is a nimble, fast-moving organization that delivers. We find it positive and well-organized, and the people who run it are good role models.”

“On this year’s trip we went on a water walk with villagers,” says Nadia, 12. “For us in Canada, we just get water from the tap whenever we want, but in the village, people have to walk a long way.

“We also got to go to a Maasai wedding – we got invited when two people in the village were getting married. There’s so much you don’t really know about until you experience it,” Nadia adds.

Families that want to get involved in WE trips can look at WE Families Kits, which provide an easy guide to get started. The guide includes 25 easy family activities that get into the “why” – helping expand knowledge about social issues and how to take action that can make a difference. Costs of the trips vary, depending on location and activities.

Planning any family trip can be daunting, so WE Families Kits also include conversation cards that offer a soft introduction to planning. The cards help families identify the causes that mean most to them – such as clean water, education, health, food or farming.

The cards also help family members pinpoint the skills they might be able to offer and how they can make a difference in the communities they visit, in their own communities and schools when they return and, ultimately, globally.

WE Family Trips are offered to India and Ecuador as well as Kenya – the Lowthers already hope to go to India.

First, though, they all say they’re looking forward to WE Day.