The auditorium was pin-drop silent as 15-year-old Fatima Mela stood onstage and said the first line of her spoken word poem.
“You don’t know how it feels.”
For the next three and a half minutes, her audience of 2,000 students was captivated as she performed the poem, a reflection on cyberbullying and its impact on young people.
“I was a little nervous when I first got hold of the microphone, but then I got into the moment and just did it,” recalls Mela, a Grade 10 student at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (CKSS) in Milton, Ontario. The high school was the site of a WE Rise Above assembly held this spring for students from CKSS, as well as Grade 7 and 8 students from two other area schools.
“The goal of the campaign is to build awareness against cyberbullying and to support and inspire youth to be good digital citizens, like by being positive and safe online,” Mela says.
Since elementary school, she has been involved in making a difference in her school and community, and is part of a group of students at CKSS leading various action campaigns: from collecting non-perishable food for local food banks to raising funds for clean water projects in Tanzania. Mela was eager to take part in WE Rise Above to help other students learn more about cyberbullying, its impact and what they can do to stop it. She even made it the subject of a spoken word poem written as an English class assignment, which she then performed at the WE Rise Above assembly.
“Cyberbullying happens a lot more often than we think,” says Mela. “It can be as small as sharing negative content, posting an embarrassing photo, spreading gossip or even putting out hurtful polls on Instagram. Everyone is on social media and they feel it’s easier to say something negative behind a screen than in person.”
Nimmi Kanji, director of TELUS Wise, agrees. “As a world-leading technology company in Canada, we believe that it is our social responsibility to contribute to solving the issue of cyberbullying and to help make the digital space a safe space for everyone that uses it,” she says.
TELUS has partnered with WE since 2007, donating more than $26 million in support of WE Day, the WE Global Learning Center and WE Schools programming, which includes WE Rise Above curriculum and campaign resources. Through their educational program, TELUS Wise, TELUS engages Canadians of all ages in discussing the important issue of internet safety while helping Canadians have a positive experience as digital citizens.
“Over the past 12 years of working together with WE, we’ve empowered tens of thousands of Canadian youth to rise above and end bullying, and to take steps to create positive change in their communities,” Kanji says.
Research shows that in any given month, 42 percent of Canadian youth experience cyberbullying, and 60 percent witness it. That’s why Kanji says TELUS is so committed to providing Canadian youth, parents and teachers with the tools to change the numbers—from school programming like WE Rise Above and curriculum that helps teachers support their students, to workshops for adults and parents offered through TELUS Wise.
Through WE Rise Above, students not only learn about cyberbullying, but are also inspired to take action against it. At CKSS, Fatima Mela and classmates issued their audience a challenge to take that inspiration even further.
“We asked people to create Instagram accounts that contribute to having a positive social media culture and to start using social media for good,” says Mela. “Everyone can be part of the #EndBullying team and start a conversation about creating a more positive online space.” Students were challenged to post nice quotes or images each day to add positivity to their social media feeds.
With the recent launch of WE Rise Above Grants, TELUS hopes to inspire even more schools to take action. Ten $2,000 grants will be offered to school and youth groups to fund anti-bullying initiatives. Grant winners will be chosen based on their action plan, how they’ll use the funds and the impact they hope to make in their school and community.
“We’re really excited about the grants,” Kanji says. “It’s an extension of the great work we’re already doing through WE Rise Above and the school curriculum. These grants will help youth across Canada make a greater impact around the issue of online bullying and bullying in general.”
Applications for the grants are now open. They will be awarded in the spring so students can activate their anti-bullying plans before the end of the school year.
“The numbers around cyberbullying can be a little bit daunting, but the good news is that our research shows us that 71 percent of Canadian youth who witness cyberbullying also want to do something to intervene and help,” says Kanji. “And that’s what really excites us the most. There is a ton of potential to empower youth to speak up and make a difference.”
To apply for the WE Rise Above Grant and learn more about the WE Rise Above campaign, visit WE.org/weriseabove.
For more information on TELUS Wise, visit telus.com/wise.