Shawn Desman has been participating nationwide in Free The Children’s massive We Day student gatherings since he first performed at one in 2010, encouraging a new generation of social activists.
The Toronto singer-dancer, who has had platinum-selling Canadian singles with “Night Like This” and “Electric,” also choreographed the We Day dance, simple steps that can be incorporated by youth into a fundraising or awareness event. He even designed the This Is How We Do It T-shirt.
On August 6, he will finally travel with Free The Children to Kenya to see first-hand the work they are doing.
“This is the first time I’m going,” Desman tells Samaritanmag. “They’ve invited me for three, four years and I’ll totally be honest, I’m a bad flyer; I hate flying, and it’s such a long trip, but this year I’m gonna suck it up. Everybody that’s gone has told me it’s life changing; you have to go and do it.
“I really want to go visit all the initiatives and all the schools, the clean water project, and all the things they’ve been involved with because I haven’t had a chance to do it yet. And [FTC founders] Marc and Craig [Kielburger] are so amazing, two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met in my life so I want to really be hands-on. I want to get in there.”
According to the Free The Children web site page on Kenya, as of 2003, 56 percent of the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line—$17 per month in rural areas and $36 per month in urban areas. Extreme poverty (defined as those living under $1 per day) includes almost 30 percent of Kenya’s current population. In the Narok South District where Free The Children focuses its efforts, one in 10 Kenyan children still die before reaching their fifth birthday. One third of children under five years of age are stunted, reflecting chronic under-nutrition. This proportion is 14 times higher than the level expected in a healthy, well-nourished population.
Since the Kenyan government declared free primary education in 2002, Free The Children has been helping build schools and schoolrooms, while the government pledges to maintain them, including hiring teachers and providing materials and resources.
Desman, who is married and has two young sons, knows it’s going to be an emotional trip, meeting these kids and witnessing the marked differences in living conditions, medical access, nutrition and education. “The water works are going to get working,” he says.
“It’s going to take getting used to because we’re used to certain things here. We have all these amenities and everything that we love and we’re spoiled with, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I think I am actually doing something with the Kenyan Boys Choir. I’m excited,” he says, adding, “I think MuchMusic is coming on the trip as well, so they’ll be filming a bunch of stuff.”
Desman admits that despite all the great events he’s done for Free The Children, he feels disconnected not having stories to share that can really affect the teenagers and lead to their help.
“I hear all these things — and all the cast from Degrassi, Nelly [Furtado] — everybody has gone over and visited, and that’s the only thing I haven’t done with Free The Children. That’s why this year I was like, ‘I have to do it. I’m gonna suck it up, ‘doctor give me a sleeping pill’ and I’ll crash out for the flight.”Nike KD 11