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Have your Say: Do awareness days make a difference?

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children, Me to We and We Day. Find out more at we.org. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

What better way to usher in spring than spending a day planting flowers in the buff. Isn't that what every Canadian did on World Naked Gardening Day in early May?

The year is full of some pretty wacky days of awareness we're all encouraged to acknowledge: International Talk Like A Pirate Day, National Hairball Awareness Day, and our personal favourite, Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you).

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For all the absurdity, there are deeply meaningful days, weeks and months that have the potential to make an impact on society by educating people, rallying supporters and sparking conversations on issues that need to be discussed.

In June, for example, there's World Refugee Day and National Aboriginal Day – two incredibly relevant events dealing with critical challenges facing our country.

The United Nations has 130 different days for issues and causes it wants the world to take action on. (Somehow World Toilet Day and International Men's Day ended up sharing the same 24-hour period to enlighten the public.) The Parliament of Canada website encourages Canadians to celebrate 59 official days, weeks and months – not including national holidays.

Awareness days break through the all the noise of our daily lives to remind us of important issues, notes David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada. "It can be hard for a timeless message to break through people's obsession with what's new now," says Miller

While we have no plans to spend 24 hours talking like pirates, we'll seize the opportunity special days present to enlighten ourselves and promote the causes we are passionate about.

How can we use awareness days to make a difference on issues we care about?

Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations National Chief

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"Awareness days can help educate and allow us to refocus. When we take time to pause and reflect we can open our heart and our minds to rid ourselves of any misconceptions that hold us all back. And this will help drive the change we need."

Zoe Grams, principal of Vancouver PR firm ZG Communications

"Awareness days and campaigns like Bell Let's Talk make a personal connection between people and an issue. The conversation about mental health, for example, has significantly changed in a short time. Environmental events like Earth Hour work because turning out our lights makes a personal connection between an abstract issue (climate change) and our individual actions."

Diane Hill, senior director of public engagement, Canadian Women's Foundation

"Using awareness days to share stories helps people understand they're not alone in their own experiences. This can help bring people together and spark conversations about solutions. Also, over time, observing awareness days can help change attitudes; they provide an annual reminder that the issue isn't going away, that there are still ways to make a difference."

Have your say in the comments.

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