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As artists, we wield tremendous influence in our culture. Plato rightly feared the arts’ ability to shape thought and sway the affection of society. When we harness the power of our public voice to speak out as advocates, we pierce the consciences of good men and women. We are proud to join forces with artists who are willing to use their influence and platform to tell the stories of those whose voices might never be heard... the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed living in impoverished communities around the world.

A Voice For Change: Tom Cochrane

   
   Jasmine Owen

This October marks 25 years since the release of Tom Cochrane’s 1991 album, Mad Mad World, which earned him four Juno Awards and includes the globally recognized rock anthem, “Life is a Highway.”

Tom has also been a long-time World Vision supporter and ambassador. Today, we look back at how one of Canada’s most popular musicians has lent his voice for change over the years.

. . .

 
In late 2004, the day after the December 26 tsunami devastated Southeast Asia, Tom was on the phone rallying his contacts in the Canadian music industry. His long association with World Vision helped him bridge the gap between charities and musicians and got both groups working together to produce a mass fundraiser in record time.

The result was Canada for Asia, a three-hour, commercial-free, concert telethon hosted by Ron MacLean and Rick Mercer. It aired on CBC and featured such iconic artists as Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Rush, Jann Arden, Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Jason McCoy, Tom himself, and many other Canadian performers.

The initiative raised more than $4 million to support relief efforts through various agencies, of which World Vision was one. For his part, Tom describes what he did with characteristic humility. “These things choose us,” he explains. “We can either ignore them, or we can respond.”
 

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But ignoring the plight of the poor hasn’t been an option for this long-time child sponsor. In the 1990s, he embarked on a series of trips with World Vision to learn how child sponsorship works.

For Tom, witnessing a woman die of starvation on his first trip to Mozambique in 1991 was a pivotal experience. “Her daughter just looked up at me as if to say, ‘Why didn’t you stop this?'” he recalls. “I could see my daughter’s eyes in her eyes. That was a very crystalline moment.”

 

There’s no load I can’t hold
Road so rough this I know
I’ll be there when the light comes in
Just tell ’em we’re survivors

Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane

 

Tom says the emotional encounter, which partly inspired the hit song “Life is a Highway,” galvanized him to do more. In 2005, he initiated the Canada for Asia fundraiser. Later that year, Tom also performed at the Canadian Live 8 concert and became a celebrity spokesperson for the Make Poverty History campaign.

What has struck the deepest chord in compelling Tom to action? He says it’s something he learned on his travels with World Vision. “In so many cases, the tougher it was for people, the more kindness they displayed and the more they wanted to reach out to you,” Tom remarks. “Choosing to reach out is the least I can do.”

 
This story first appeared in the Winter 2005/2006 edition of Childview magazine.

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