Racism... it's a fatal disease. There's only one solution and that's a non surgical change of heart. Picture nine young people, high energy, dancing their message to an inspired audience. The message is clearcut. Surgery must happen.

These young dancers (and a techie road crew of three) are taking their message through music and movement into high schools and elementary schools and centres across this country and into others.

When they appeared in Barrie, they chose the Southshore Community Centre and Community Living as locations for their message. Wildfire, that's the name of this diverse dance troupe, takes their show Road Garden, celebrating unity and diversity, to centres across Canada.

Funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, Wildfire was sponsored locally by the Bahai Community and they gave 10 performances in this region. As they dance, they tell stories...

Gang violence ... abuse of women and children ... AIDS ... equality ... poverty.

Their aim is to inspire hearts and ignite change.

"You are my family. When I say "step" my family "steps with me."

All the dancers are about the same age--18 to 21--and come from Senegal, Mexico, the United States, Greece, Iran and Canada, six countries in all. Wildfire Dance Theatre is based in Stratford, but is travelling the country. A not-for-profit theatre and development initiative, the entire production is driven by youth speaking to youth on social and economic change relevant to our world.

These young people are taking a year of their lives to dance three times a day, to travel, to live in unknown places, all to make a difference, to raise awareness.

So popular were they when they appeared in Venezuela that the Canadian ambassador to Venezuela invited them to return in March to perform when the Embassy held its annual Canadian Fair. The ambassador cited Wildfire as a terrific example of what Canadian youth can do to inspire and serve humanity.

During the Venezuelan experience the dancers performed to more than 10,000 people, with the ambassador herself doing the introductions.

The Barrie show in February featured young dancers from British Columbia, Winnipeg, and Owen Sound, Stirling, Stratford, and Barrie, Ontario. As well, they came from Mexico, Iran, Greece, Senegal and the U.S..

The Barrie dancer, Devon Lochhead, is 18 and a graduate of Innisdale Secondary School. Devon went as far as grade 11 in North Bay and then did two years at Innisdale to complete the picture. The third of three, Devon is a relaxed, easy-going guy who wasn't particularly interested in sports. The Lochhead family was used to billetting student performers from Up With People and Wildfire and Devon got used to playing host to energetic, performing young people.

It was logical that he seek participation in the troupe. Unlike Up With People, Wildfire expects some money from its dancers, but uses other funds as well. Extra costs are levied for uniforms but the troupe covers travel costs. Devon worked at Licks Restaurant to raise funds and was excited to hit the road.

When he completes his tour the end of May, he'll have two tours under his belt, a total 10 months on the stage. He says that Wildfire will return to Barrie next fall to appear both at schools and publically. To find out the Barrie dates, check out the Wildfire website at: www.wildfiredt.com.

For Devon this was a new initiative for his family... he has been enthused about what he's learned about himself. He says he feels good about what he's doing, and he has a strong sense of his commitment as well as his contribution.

Of course, he now has worldwide contacts of people who have changed his life.

Seeing the world, from all sides, is a great way to gain perspective. Devon has a whole different appreciation for diversity. Imagine staying with a family where none of you has language to communicate? It's a whole new learning curve.

He plans to attend University of Guelph for Biochemistry in the fall. He wants to take his Wildfire experience, and his camp counsellor experience into the classroom where he can be with kids forever.

Thanks, Devon. Thanks, Wildfire.

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