Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the committee.
Good afternoon. My name is Dalal Al-Waheidi, and I serve as the executive director for WE Charity.
I've spent 18 years in various roles at WE Charity, and I work alongside an exceptional team. I'm proud of the impact we make in helping young people at home by engaging them in service, and around the world helping children and families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Our work is so important to me.
I'm a Palestinian Canadian and a refugee by birth. Growing up, I was affected by war twice: First, my family was in Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf War, and second, while living in the Gaza Strip. As a child and a teenager, I experienced first-hand the terrible impact of war, political instability, violence and systematic racism of young children because of identity, nationality and religion. However, I held on to a faint hope that my education would unlock doors for my future.
These experiences of political and cultural divisiveness have come to define my life and my professional career at WE Charity, from advocating for young people, advancing education, working on diversity and inclusion, and championing the rights of girls and women.
In 1998, I arrived in Canada on my own to study international development, on a full scholarship, at Trent University. After graduation, I was proud to join a Canadian-founded not-for-profit, then called Free the Children and now known as WE Charity.
I have been lucky to build an entrepreneurial career with WE Charity, progressing from a youth coordinator to a program builder, overseeing our international development programs, leading WE Day, and now as its executive director. My story is only one of the many stories of people who have helped build this organization with staff and volunteers, many of whom have worked for 25 years to build WE Charity into what it is today.
I was directly involved in shaping and growing it, alongside passionate and dedicated team members for WE Days across Canada. It was our dream to make it cool for kids to care and to contribute. WE Day is a celebration of their service to their communities. Imagine the young person who volunteers for the first time in life, who cares about poverty or homelessness or racial injustice, who takes a stand on an issue, raises their voice for our cause or organizes a campaign, and then gets to celebrate with other youth who want to change the world too.
Through WE Day, more than one million Canadians have been inspired to give back and volunteer for the first time. We have worked with 7,000 schools. Students have volunteered 70 million hours for more than 3,000 causes, creating compassionate people who know they can make a difference. Studies have shown that our alumni are more likely to join, volunteer and look for careers in the social sector.
In addition to our local work, we also do international development, which makes us different. Through our development projects, we have built 1,500 schools and classrooms where more than 200,000 children have been educated and 30,000 women have been supported by our alternative income projects. I have had the honour to meet hundreds and hundreds of children in developing countries who attend schools built by WE Charity, many of whom are girls.
WE Charity is different from most groups, and that can be a source of confusion. As we grew beyond the small charity, it required a better model to sustain itself and its good work. ME to WE social enterprise creates jobs overseas, especially for women entrepreneurs, and it chose volunteers and donors at all of our global development sites so that they can transparently see the impact of our development projects.
Since the ME to WE social enterprise was founded in 2008, 100% of its profit—every penny—has been annually donated to WE Charity or reinvested to grow the social mission. At a time when charitable donations in Canada are at a 30-year low, the support of the social enterprise means that we do not have to plead for money from an ever-dwindling group of donors.
WE Charity is not perfect, especially when pulling apart every choice over the past 25 years, but I hope Canadians are willing to give us a second look. Under additional lights, outside of the political controversy we find ourselves in, our programs should be seen as innovative and entrepreneurial and delivering meaningful impact, benefiting children across Canada and around the world.
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been helping to bring service opportunities to young people. It was with great optimism that I worked alongside a talented team to make the Canada service grant a reality. A lot has been lost with its cancellation. This summer tens of thousands of students, over 65% from the visible minority population, lost their service opportunities. I could never have imagined that the combination of COVID-19 and the political fallout of agreeing to partner on the CSSG could be so devastating for WE Charity, our staff and the communities we serve.
A lot has happened. This week we had to release staff in Canada and say good-bye to talented and passionate members who came to WE because of their commitment to service. This is incredibly difficult and emotional. We have proactively suspended many of our philanthropic partnerships and school board partnerships in Canada. The organization is examining every aspect of what it does, including streamlining its organizational structure, conducting a governance review, simplifying its brand and closing certain programs.
It is easy to tear things down, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's not easy to build. Twenty-five years were invested by thousands of current and former staff, board members, teachers, schools, donors, students and advisers to create a unique platform for youth engagement and international development. I want to take a moment to share my gratitude and thanks for each one of them for believing in our mission. Regardless of the firestorm we are facing, nothing can erase the pride I feel for the impact of WE Charity and the dedication of our team. I know what has been achieved. I've seen it. I've seen its magical impact. It is worth saving.
As a child who fled war twice, Canada has given me everything. I've tried and worked very hard to give something back. I hope my two daughters, Zeina and Leila, first-generation Canadians, will one day participate in service programs, give back to this country and be celebrated for their service. I want to do my part to always ensure that Canada continues to be a good country with good people who have good hearts.
Thank you. Meegwetch. Merci. Shukran.