She may be petite and just 10, but Hannah Alper has a passion for the environment and social justice that is huge.
Since the Richmond Hill, Ont., girl started her blog, Call Me Hannah (callmehannah.ca), in the summer of 2012, she has become a media darling, described as "the future of social media," "eco-warrior" and "change maker." Her blog posts have touched on topics including eco-friendly living, fair trade, bullying, clean water and child labour.
And now she's set to take the stage as a We Day speaker at events across Canada and two in the United States this fall.
"I am really humbled. I am so, so excited," Hannah says. "It's unbelievable. Free the Children is such an empowering organization. They made me believe I can make a difference, no matter how young I am."
Hannah started her blog after attending a three-hour workshop at the Digital Family Summit in July of 2012. She has a deep love for animals and made the connection about how environmental destruction makes an impact on their habitat. She decided to write about eco topics and within six months reached 100,000 page views.
Hannah learned about Free the Children while researching how to make eco-friendly cleaning products and discovered that FTC co-founder Marc Kielburger, who with his brother, Craig, also grew up in Richmond Hill, had made toxic-free cleaning products as an award-winning Grade 7 science project. She poured over the FTC website and We Day videos and became inspired.
Her dad, Eric, made the call to FTC and explained that although his daughter was 9 at the time, she wanted to be involved and he suggested they check out her blog. As a result, she was invited to last year's We Day.
"When I went to We Day, it really shaped who I am today. I was so amazed at what was happening in the stadium. The energy of speakers, performers and students was so powerful."
Since then, Hannah has organized a shoreline cleanup in her community, was a team captain at the World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour and spoke at the WWF's Earth Hour event in Toronto. She was the official "on the ground eco-blogger" for the 2013 Juno Awards. At two local schools, she also launched We Create Change, a drive to collect pennies for Free the Children's clean-water projects. Her impassioned speech prompted her peers to collect 97,500 pennies for the cause.
"In some countries, girls can't get an education because they have to walk miles to get water," she explains.
Hannah has also participated in We Are Silent, a campaign that raises funds and awareness of the 215 million children in the world who are forced to work as child labourers and are denied the right to attend school. Recently, she attended FTC's Take Action Camp.
Social action is a family affair. Her mother, Candace, has been involved with helping children in their community through social programs and summer camps and music therapy. Her father, director of media relations, licencing and distribution for eOne Music Canada, started Hear Here, a non-profit, charitable organization that purchases hearing aids for children whose families who can't afford them.
"Hannah comes by it naturally, but at her own pace and puts her own spin on it," Candace Alper says. "She's an incredibly confident kid who's interested in so much and empathetic about so many things.
"From when she started her blog, we've done so many things as a family that we wouldn't have and those have been wonderful experiences," her mother says. "We recycle better than we used to and we get to experience We Day together."
Her father adds, "You have no idea how proud we are of Hannah – it's pure joy to see her like this."
Though many adults would find it intimidating to take the stage in large stadiums, Hannah has no fears about speaking to the We Day crowds. She has honed her skills interviewing those she finds inspirational, such as Craig Kielburger, Spencer West, an amputee who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for clean-water projects in Kenya, and Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the daughter of David Suzuki and an environmentalist in her own right, and has been interviewed on TV and radio.
Though she enjoys drawing, karate, reading and hanging out with her friends, Hannah's current focus is We Day and practising her speech. The topic "is a secret," she says."I'm so focused on We Day, I don't know what's next, but I'm open to anything." She does know she waits to join future FTC trips to countries such as Ghana, Haiti and Kenya and help to build schools.
And at an age when most youngsters haven't given much thought to their future goals, Hannah does know this: "I'm going to be an activist."