Growing up in a Kenyan village with no running water or electricity, Teriano Lesancha never imagined she would receive an education, let alone take the stage at the Air Canada Centre to share her story with a crowd of 20,000 children.
But that’s exactly where the Ryerson social work graduate was last Friday, joining president Sheldon Levy at Free the Children’s We Day celebration.
The concert event, held each year by activist brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger, brings celebrities and social change advocates to Toronto to inspire youth to make a difference.
For Lesancha, it was a chance to encourage youth to follow in her footsteps by working hard to achieve their goals.
“I believe in education and through it, we can change the world,” she said, after describing how her father sold his last calf to send her to Ryerson to become the first in her village to receive a university education. Since then, Lesancha has returned to Kenya to rebuild her father’s herd, send 50 kids to school and begin building a women’s centre, cyber café and beekeeping business.
During her speech, she taught the audience about “pamoja,” a Swahili word meaning “together.” She says she was touched to see how many children were repeating the message to her as she left the stage and the stadium later that day.
“There were people that I never met and people behind the stage that were all calling out to me, ‘pamoja,’” she said.
Lesancha wasn’t the only one with a Ryerson connection who was part of the We Day festivities.
Ryerson dancers kicked off the show with an intricate routine set to music from Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech.
At the end of the performance, the dancers were joined onstage by Martin Luther King III — a moment which fourth-year dance student Tara Pillon says had her holding back tears.
“I was really moved by the entire thing, especially the experience of performing in front of a crowd of young people who have been making a difference in our world,” she said. “They are so positive and brought such a great energy throughout the entire We Day event.”
Fellow fourth-year dancer Alexandra Bleim agreed. She said the event was “exhilarating,” “emotional” and well worth the long hours of grueling practice at the dance studio.
“We only had a week to learn the performance,” she said. “We were all pretty exhausted but we knew we had to work efficiently to make sure we felt prepared and did the performance justice. We somehow managed to pull it together.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on September 25, 2013.