Mitch Kurylowicz

Trip Facilitator, ME to WE

Speaking about the impact he witnessed while working at WE, Mitch said, Not only have I met beneficiaries of WE at home and abroad, but as a staff member and participant in WE programs, I personally have learned so much from the generous and dedicated team at WE. WE is a community that cares deeply about its staff, which is why the organization has been so successful at spreading its message. For me, WE has been the best personal growth opportunity and family bonding experience that I could have asked for.

In the countries where WE initiates their WE Villages program, the organization goes well beyond the most immediate cause of development hindrances and tackles the root cause. Instead of just building a school or a home for families in rural areas of the developing world, WE works with communities to find out what is best for them. By working with communities instead of assuming what is best, community members have a sense of ownership in the projects that WE helps to initiate. This gives communities a greater sense of empowerment and commitment to making a better life for themselves and their families.

At home, WE Schools programs have drastically impacted the trajectory of students across North America. WE is a community that welcomes all in the spirit of doing good. The ripple effect of a student being involved in a WE club or WE community at school is felt by their peers, their family and broader community. The message that they are spreading is one of love, empowerment and altruism in a world that desperately needs it.

Reflecting on his overall experience at WE, Mitch noted,

My experience at WE has been entirely positive. I have been a youth participant on ME to WE international trips and at camps in Toronto, a youth member on WE Charity’s board of directors, a participant or speaker at over 20 WE Days and a trip facilitator of youth and families at WE sites around the world. I say this not to highlight the variety of roles I have had at WE, but instead the longevity of my experience, illustrating how easy it is to be passionate about WE. It is also important for me to note that through my 11 years as a participant or staff, I have only had positive experiences. The entire WE team is committed to their work and inspired by WE’s mission, without exception.

One of my most memorable experiences with the organization that illustrates their commitment came when my family was helping to raise money for a project in Kenya in partnership with WE. We were putting on events with hundreds of people and wanted to make sure that all of our guests loved the experience. The WE team made us feel special, supported us in every way that they could and kept us in line with our mutual mission to help young students in Kenya have a chance to go to school. This story is comparable to any experience I have ever had with the organization. WE is always enthusiastic, eloquent and compassionate.

Looking back and what he was most proud of during his time at WE, Mitch said,

My role at WE over the last several years has largely been focused on hosting trips overseas in Kenya, Ecuador and India. This is something I do for the organization two or three times per year. Here, I have been able to showcase the work that WE does to empower and educate people in some of the most impoverished areas of the world. Two things make me incredibly proud of this work.

First, I get to see the direct impact that WE’s schools, health clinics, water projects, agricultural initiatives and economic opportunities have on communities all over the world. It makes me proud to work with an organization that cares so passionately about giving people access to opportunity in a sustainable way. Instead of giving a hand out to communities, WE gives a hand up to help level the playing field of opportunity.

Second, I get to meet and host families from all over the world that want to expose their children to different ways of life. I have made some really authentic friendships with our guests, all in the spirit of doing good. I am proud to work with an organization that fosters these kinds of friendships between people of completely different walks of life. WE brings people together and creates lasting bonds in the name of positivity and empowerment.

Thinking about how the organization has changed over the years, Mitch said,

I have been involved with WE for about 11 years in various capacities. My connection to WE began at age nine, when I traveled to Kenya as a participant on a family trip. I was exposed to the authenticity of WE’s work, their genuine passion for sustainable change and their model of development. Even as a young boy, I knew how vital this work was to empower people with greater access to opportunity. Since the age of 12, I have been going back to Kenya at least once or twice per year. Each time I return, there are more classrooms, health facilities and farms. Beyond the critical infrastructure, one of the best measures of WE’s success is the increasing number of smiles among the locals and the number of kids I see skipping to school with excitement each day. Not only have I seen one elementary school turn into dozens over roughly 10 years, I have also seen the attitude of locals get brighter, more empowered and more trajectory-focused.

This is just one example of what I have seen. Similar stories can be told about WE’s involvement in communities in Ecuador, India and elsewhere, not to mention to measurable difference it has had for millions of youth in North America. The most important change at WE I have seen in 11 years is the number of people who share the founders’ (Marc and Craig Kielburger) vision for social change. I have seen no other organization catalyze people of all cohorts like WE, and I can only imagine what positivity it will amplify in the next 11 years.

Mitch reflected on his most memorable impact of his work, saying,

My involvement with WE started at a very young age. I went to Kenya on a ME to WE Trip with my family first when I was nine and then again when I was 12. On the second trip I had the opportunity to see the opening of an all-girls secondary boarding school, called Kisaruni, built by WE. On that day I asked the question “Is there a high school for boys?” and received the answer that there was not. Inspired to take action, my family, friends and I started Project Jenga so that the answer to that question would be “yes.” I wanted to build a school for boys to match the quality of education that the girls were receiving, so that all of my new Kenyan friends could have the same opportunities that I did. I started by raising money at my high school, and then my family and I started to put on events for Project Jenga. After about six-and-a-half years of hard work showcasing the power of gender equality in rural Kenya, Project Jenga and WE had raised enough money to open the school. As of January 2017, the school opened and today 66 students are in our high school, with many more classes to come.

The word jenga means “to build” in Swahili. When we started this project, we picked the name jenga because we wanted to build a school. What we did not realize at the time was that we would be building a community of kind and caring people who were willing to help others that they had never met. WE directly helped me and my family build this community. The team at WE respected my ideas, even as a young teenager looking to make a difference. That respect carried over to when I began working for the organization, and is something that the organization prides itself on for all staff.

The reason why this experience is so memorable for me is that my family was able to bond over the idea of helping others, and our work has created measurable impact for students in Kenya. The success of this project is due, in large part, to the dedication of the WE team and the attitude that they inspired in me and my family.

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