Me to We and Be the Change and Mackenzie and Amanda

The I Love Me Club was just the beginning. When 7 year old Mackenzie Oliver questioned her mom about why a classmate felt nobody loved her because she was ‘ugly’, Ingrid Oliver had a discussion about self esteem and beauty and confidence beginning in one’s heart. Mackenzie took it a step further and the I Love Me Club was born. In fact, if you google I Love Me Club you’ll find my 2010 column on the whole beginning.

Makenzie is now 13, and her club has over 2300 members, all having taken the pledge to honour their own self esteem and that of others… to inflict no damage.

And the grade 8 student’s commitment to the world has grown, A few years ago she joined the Me to We club at her school. These associations are parented by the Free The Children Foundation established by Craig Keilburger when he was 13 years old. Just like Mackenzie.

The school club inspired Me to We Day at the Air Canada Centre where literally thousands of children show their support for the world’s less fortunate children. Focussed on child labour and poverty, Free the Children and its Me to We program challenges young people to Be the Change.

Last year, at age 12, Mackenzie (and her supportive, enthusiastic family) raised the money needed for her to go to Kenya, Africa to work on a Me to We project. For three weeks, she lived the life of a Kenyan kid. She participated in finishing pouring cement for the foundation for a school in the village she was visiting. She cooked meals by trading and borrowing and blending what she could. She discovered that girls didn’t get to go to school because they have to haul water long distances, care for younger siblings and work at home. She did a typical ‘water walk’ to fill vessels and return them to simple dwellings that house families. And she opened her eyes, her mind and her heart.

She came back quietened by the experience. “It’s not like we see in the adoption ads on tv,” she said. Children in these villages are happy. They want to play with us. They know only their life. When I got back, I’d seen so much that I had kind of a culture shock. I felt like a completely different person than I was before I left. I don’t want to hear petty complaints.”

And so, Mackenzie and her long time friend Amanda Whibley are off to India this summer, from July 17 to August 7. They’ll fly from Toronto to New Delhi and on to a regional airport and then travel locally to the village of Udaipur. During the 3 1/2 weeks, Mackenzie will turn 14. She and Amanda will be working on a school construction, participating in a clean water project, visiting temples and understanding culture. “We can’t go into villages and say ‘they need this, they need that’…we need to find out what they need,” she says.

The tally for air fare and expenses for this Me to We experience is $10,000 for the two grade 8 students. They’ve been raising money since last September and have appreciated the help of Marks Work Wearhouse, a casino night at Bear Creek Secondary School, pizza nights at both Pizza Huts, an accessory show at Tangle Creek Golf Club, and donations from people who care. Right now they are raising funds for their medical treatments pre travel, treatments that will cost in the neighbourhood of $600.

And while Craig and Marc Keilburger’s foundation is uppermost in her mind, Mackenzie hasn’t lost sight of the importance of the I Love Me Club. It all begins with self esteem, for anyone, anywhere.

Interested? She’ll respond immediately.