This Ottawa youth found her voice thanks to WE.

By Jesse Mintz

Buried beneath a pile of clothes and shoes in Shreya Anand’s bedroom closet is a special bag. Most days, it lays there undisturbed, half forgotten. But when she needs it most—like after a particularly bad day at school or a fight with friends—it always brings comfort.

The Grade 9 Ottawa-area student was bullied a lot when she was younger and in conflict with classmates. “I was dealing with a lot of weight issues,” she explains. “I felt like I didn’t have a voice.”

Then, she discovered WE. She was only in Grade 4 and her school’s club was limited to Grade 6 students. Still, she was determined to join. After school one day, she rushed home and parked herself in front of the family computer, researching everything she could about the organization. The youngest person in the club, she made a space for herself among older students and found a new sense of confidence.

“With WE, I was able to speak up for others and eventually for myself,” she says. Soon, she was leading school-wide food drives, raising awareness about global issues and encouraging compassion and kindness in the halls.

While she’s matured, the bullying persists. She now deals with it differently, inspired by WE.

Eating lunch with some friends one day at Earl of March High School in Kanata, her phone buzzed with a notification from Snapchat. Some girls she thought were her friends were mocking her for her Instagram account. Tears quietly fell as the feeling of self-consciousness flooded back.

She was quiet the rest of the day at school, reminiscent of the shy, withdrawn younger version of herself that first found WE.

That evening, though, she was on her hands and knees tearing through her closet in search of her special bag.

She calls it her “Warm and Fuzzies.” It’s full of notes from friends and counsellors at ME to WE Take Action Camp she met in the summer, reminders of the powerful teenager she’s become and the deep friendships she made. More than that, it serves as a talisman of the confidence she’s found.

The next day, she returned to school her usual self again. And months later, when her school’s WE club hosted a Mini WE Day—complete with music, dancing, inspiring speeches and videos—she took the stage to share her story.

Her hands were shaking, she recalls, her stomach in knots as she stepped to the microphone.

“I was so nervous, so stressed that maybe no one would pay attention or care,” she explains.

But as she began to speak, sharing her story of being bullied and the community she found through WE, her voice steadied, and a funny thing happened.

People cheered for her.

The teenager who years ago would never have been able to stand in front of a crowd—let alone open herself up and share her passion—was stopped in the halls for days by classmates and fellow students telling her how much her story meant to them. Her social media, which in years gone by had been an avenue for hate and bullying, was flooded with positivity.

That is the transformation WE has inspired in Shreya.

“WE made me believe I had a voice to speak about issues,” she reflects. “It also taught me that I had a voice to speak up for myself.”

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