REGINA — A group of students at Mother Teresa Middle School didn’t just win a trip Canada’s capital city. They earned it.

On Friday, a class of 16 Grade 8 students found out they will be flying to Ottawa on Nov. 9 courtesy of WestJet to attend We Day, an event that helps empower youth to create social change.

“I was shocked and excited because I’ve never been on an airplane before, and it’s going to be a great experience,” said 13-year-old Ashantay McKenzie-Missens.

The students will join thousands of other youth at a stadium-sized event featuring artists and celebrity speakers to hear how they can make a difference, both at home and on the world stage.

The class was selected as part of WestJet’s initiative to help 90 students from across Canada who have worked to change their communities.

Of course, one of the tag lines of We Day is that there’s no way to buy a ticket. You have to earn one.

The students have worked on a number of community projects that helped them get their tickets, including raising $2,506 last year through a gingerbread decorating competition to help build two classrooms in India. The students are currently making and selling their own crabapple jelly to raise money for the women’s shelter Regina Transition House.

It’s worth noting that students weren’t doing their community work for the express purpose of getting a ticket to We Day. It’s simply a bonus. After all, they had no idea they would be going.

“It’s not about getting something. It’s about giving back to the community,” said Greg Rieder, the class’ teacher.

Even though she hasn’t attended We Day yet, McKenzie-Missens already wants to see changes when it comes to certain global and local issues, including how the world treats women.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that women are being mistreated for, even stereotypes, sexual abuse and everything like that,” she said.

And closer to home, the fear of gang violence is something she’d like to see change in Regina.

“People being afraid to walk down the streets for what they’re wearing,” said McKenzie-Missens, in reference to gang colours, is something she’d like to see go away.

The celebrity lineup for Ottawa has yet to be announced, but McKenzie-Missens is hoping to see pop singers Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato.

After attending We Day on Nov. 10, the students will stay in Ottawa for a couple more days and attend the Remembrance Day ceremony on Parliament Hill.

Rieder said it’s a chance for the school to give students a once-in-a-lifetime experience they might otherwise not get to have.

“Some of them are economically challenged, it’s true. They don’t have the financial wherewithal to go places like that on their own … What we want our students to experience as much as possible (is) to make them successful and see hope in their future,” said Rieder.


Mark Melnychuk