Photo: Signe Langford
Pandas and Anya Audette-Sekdorian go way back—well, at least to the second grade, when the now nine-year-old did a project on the furry bamboo fiend and discovered it was an endangered species. From that point on she felt compelled to research other animals at risk and do what she could to help save them. Thankfully, pandas have since been taken off the endangered list. We’d like to think Anya had a little something to do with that.
For the past three years, Anya has entered the WWF’s Kids Run for Nature, a fund-raising fun run for the World Wildlife Fund, created by two 10-year-old kids from her Riverdale community, in Toronto, which now takes place at several locations across Canada. But, being something of a go-getter, Anya wasn’t content with merely asking people for sponsor money. Each time, she plastered her neighbourhood with handwritten signs complete with eye-catching pictures of tigers and giant hearts. And the day before the run, she set up a lemonade stand (with homemade awareness-raising banner) in her driveway, selling drinks and homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to multiply her fundraising potential.
In just three hours, on a fortuitously hot Saturday morning this year, she poured 45 glasses of lemonade, sold 72 freshly baked cookies, and raised $98.75 for the WWF. The next day, she added an additional $10 (well, Mom did) to participate with her family in the 1K fun run.
Now that might seem like a modest sum in the face of a global environmental crisis. But the small and simple acts of philanthropy carried out by kids in driveways and schoolyards add up. Take the fun run: In its first two years alone it raised $25,000. And Anya’s initiative is proof that if you believe in a cause, put your heart into it—and have some Bristol Board and coloured markers—you can effect change, no matter how young you are.
On behalf of the pandas—and the blue whale, the Hector’s dolphin and the African Elephant—we salute this big-hearted environmentalist and are grateful we could get her to sit still long enough to answer a few questions.
Have you always been an animal-lover? Yes. I grew up with Princess Leia the pug. I wish I could have a cat. but my mom’s allergic so I just play with the three cats my grandma has.
What’s your favourite animal? Pandas! I have panda everything in my room: panda sheets, panda stuffies, panda PJs. Pandas are the mascot of the World Wildlife Fund. I’ve been to Toronto Zoo to see the pandas twice! They’re so cute.
Speaking of cute, tell us about that lemon dress you have on… I got it at H&M and I’ve had it for three years. I’ve done my lemonade stand for three years too, but I just remembered about it this time and thought it would be perfect to wear.
Do you have a second favourite animal? Zebras! But they’re not endangered.
What do you want to do when you grow up? Well, it’s complicated. I want to be an explorer of nature, write nature books, take nature photos and make songs about nature, too, since I play piano.
We hear you make movies as well? I made a film called Panda Dreams last year for TIFF Kids. We all got to go to see it at the Bell Lightbox cinema with my whole class. It was pretty awesome!
You listed all sorts of endangered animals on your lemonade stand sign; how come? I thought if people knew about why I was doing the lemonade stand, then they might give more money, and not just stop because they’re thirsty. And I learned about all the different kinds of dolphins and tigers there are in the world, like the black and white Hector’s dolphin and amur tiger, so I wanted to put that information on the sign, too.
Did your strategy work? Yeah, lots of people gave extra for the lemonade and cookies, some just gave money and didn’t even want a drink. One lady said she found $5 on the ground and then she looked up and saw my sign posted in the park and came right over to donate it!
What have you learned about endangered animals? Most endangered animals are endangered because people keep chopping down trees and stuff, so they don’t have anywhere to live.
What can we do to help endangered animals and nature?
We should all recycle everything and not litter and take care of the garbage. And we should always turn the lights off when we leave a room and not let the water run when we brush our teeth, because we need to protect the earth for the animals, too.
What can other kids do to help endangered animals and nature? Another way other kids could help raise money for WWF if they don’t like to run or sell lemonade, is to have a two-toonie party, like I did on my birthday. Instead of bringing a gift to the party, everyone brings two toonies: one for the kid, and the other for a charity they pick. I’m going to do it again when I turn 10 in August.
How does it feel to take action for a cause you’re so passionate about? It feels good because there are so many animals I like, and I love nature. I hope some day soon there won’t be any endangered animals because people like me are helping WWF. I feel proud that other kids might follow me in what I am trying to do. I think WWF could use lots of help.