5 Questions for 5 Young Climate Leaders - CARE

5 Questions for 5 Young Climate Leaders

Five women hold climate change signs.

Courtesy Shakila Islam

Courtesy Shakila Islam

CARE stands with women and girls on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

Climate change poses a threat to everyone on this planet, but the consequences for already marginalized communities are by far the most severe. The climate crisis acts as a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing inequalities like wealth and gender. It’s estimated that climate change could push an additional 132 million people into poverty by 2030. Women make up 80 percent of people displaced by climate change. If we’re going to tackle this potential catastrophe, we must prioritize women and girls.

Women are routinely on the frontlines of the climate emergency. Even so, women are still marginalized from making decisions on how to respond to the climate crisis. But despite these oppositional forces, we know that still #SheLeadsInCrisis. All over the world there are inspirational, powerful young women working on mitigation and adaptation measures, or towards solutions and societal change. Meet five of CARE’s Young Climate Leaders.

A woman holds a sign reading
A woman in glasses stands with her arms folded.
Courtesy Juliet Grace Luwedde

JULIET GRACE LUWEDDE FROM UGANDA: ‘LET NO ONE TELL YOU THAN YOU CAN’T DO IT’

Where were you and how old were you when you first realized you wanted to work for climate justice?

I was 14 years old when I realized I wanted to work for climate justice. I was on a mentorship journey with one of my mentors Mr. Hamba Richard, the Executive Director of TEENS Uganda.

He took me under his wing and allowed me to grow with the environment program that the organization was running at the time.

During my time at TEENS Uganda, I was introduced to the concept of Food Security, and I witnessed the birth of EBAFOSA, which is the Eco-Systems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly.

The way that climate change affects food production really stood out most of the time. It’s then that I realized that if I want to contribute to the food value chain, I must address the climate crisis.

As a young climate leader, what impact are you most proud of?

The impact that I am most proud of is with my current role with the Media Challenge Initiative, where I am contributing to how journalists report about climate change.

In 2019, we hosted a Media Challenge Expo on the theme “Reporting on Climate Change in Uganda and Africa”, and since then the narrative has changed. More media houses in Uganda are paying attention to the subject of climate change and this kind of coverage opens up opportunities to tell more people about what kind of climate action is currently being undertaken, and how individuals can collectively solve issues around climate change.

I’m a communicator! I love communicating and I love helping people communicate about climate change.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?

Start now, let no one tell you that can’t do it. In whatever capacity and with whichever kind of knowledge you have, your contribution to climate justice is equally important as everyone else’s.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

Tax fossil companies so that this money can be used to provide financing for climate action initiatives.

Also, pay attention to the work being done by young people through supporting their efforts. Don’t close the doors of engagement in their faces because they have the full potential and passion to protect our planet from the perils of climate change.

What do you do to relax and switch off?

I read a book, take long walks and most of the time escape to the countryside just to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the views of the lake.

Juliet Grace is a self-confessed environmentalist, conservationist and travel die-hard. She is the Interim Facilitator for the Global Youth Caucus on Desertification and Land (UNCCD) with a particular interest in land management and food security. She is the Focal Point for the AYICC Uganda Chapter (African Youth Initiative on Climate Change) and a co-founder of Friends of The Environment in Uganda and Programs Officer at the Media Challenge Initiative, with a focus on reporting on climate change. She was also the joint winner of the Dragons’ Den contest at the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA14). You can find her on Twitter here.

Courtesy Dircia Sarmento Belo

DIRCIA SARMENTO BELO FROM TIMOR-LESTE: ‘WE MUST BELIEVE IN OURSELVES’

Where were you and how old were you when you first realized you wanted to work for climate justice?

When I was 12 years old, I read a short story about students’ trip to the rainforest in Care International Timor-Leste’s magazine called “LAFAEK”. It described how children had fun playing in the forest, identifying different types of trees, birds and other wildlife. The story got me to pause for several minutes and imagine myself in that situation, and somehow I could see that would bring me happiness.

I started thinking about going to see any forest in my country, so during the holiday season I asked my grandma to take me to my mom’s hometown, which was far from where I lived in my dad’s hometown down on the coast. My mom’s hometown is up in the mountains and we passed through rainforest to get there. I couldn’t imagine my feeling passing through the rainforest. I don’t know why but my heart always melts when I see the forest. The breeze, the fresh air, the birds singing, it always makes me wonder at it and think how beautiful nature is.

In my childhood, my happiness was also being able to go to the river to swim and catch fish, or to the paddy field where I also went for catching catfish, crabs and shrimp. However, this is something that we are no longer doing today. The river is vanished, the water is dried out, and it’s challenging for us to predict the weather for agricultural purposes.

So, what causes the changes? Reflecting on the changes in my country today, I feel the call to take action and want to work for a climate justice.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?

Women and nature have been sharing a powerful connection in many ways. As giver of life, devoted mother, and thoughtful sisters, we women have the power to protect our earth, and our works are made to do creates sensitivities and empathy. Therefore, we must believe in ourselves.

As a young climate leader, what impacts are you most proud of?

In 2019, I initiated a project called “how can art influence environmental behavior”. We used the Challenge Prize approach to find creative, influential, and powerful arts, especially performing theatre and visual art that would be used as tools to raise public awareness on the environmental problem. This trial project was a great success as most youth groups were interested to take part as art competitors, and more than 200 people participated in the final competition, including VIP guests such as the National Director of Environmental Information and Education, Ambassador of USA to Timor-Leste, representative of New Zealand Embassy to Timor-Leste, and representative of European Union Delegation to Timor-Leste.

After the competition, each group was committed to use the incentive to create impact in their community. As a result, the EWC recognized me as for an Honorable Mention in the Ocean category for the 2020 EWC Earth Optimism Awards: Southeast Asia in the theme of Arts & Media.

Also in 2020, I did an online course on Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home to learn about environmental issues and protection from a religious perspective. As a first Timor-Leste Laudato Si Animator, I founded a group of Laudato Si Animators Timor-Leste to inspire and influence more youths to be part of environmental activism in Timor-Leste. Now, we have more than 50 animators.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

Look at the face of someone who just lost their home, then you will understand suffering from their eyes. This is the task of the leader.

In a sentence, what does climate justice look like to you?

We all deserve a healthy environment to live regardless our race, nationality, ages or gender. This is the basic right of a human.

Dircia Sarmento Belo is from Dili, Timor-Leste and she works to support awareness-raising and behavioral change activities. She is a youth leader and activist with the Timorese Youth Initiative for Development and Laudato Si Animators Timor-Leste youth groups. She also currently works for UNDP as an environmental consultant on recycling projects. You can find her on Facebook here.

 

A woman holds a microphone at a climate justice event in Bangladesh.
Courtesy Shakila Islam

SHAKILA ISLAM FROM BANGLADESH: ‘WHERE IS MY CLIMATE JUSTICE?’

Where were you and how old were you when you first realized you wanted to work for climate justice?  

I am 26 years and from the Barishal coastal area of Bangladesh. The main source of income in my family was agriculture, but in 2007 when I was 11 years old, our family was hit by Super Cyclone Sidr, an extreme natural disaster that affected more than 8 million people in my country.

When I moved to a more urban setting, I became involved with some youth organizations and learned that these natural disasters are increasing due to the effects of climate change. Our communities are facing this type of disaster but we have not made huge contributions to these calamities. On this basis, I helped found a coastal-led youth movement YouthNet for Climate Justice which is the largest network for running climate advocacy and campaigns.

With YouthNet for Climate Justice, young people have mobilized and are sharing their ideas. Most importantly they have become actors that take climate action. It is vital to invest in the young people of Bangladesh.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice? 

My advice to young women is to learn about science, explore the solution raise their voice, and lead the process. We are unheard, not voiceless. Our voice and involvement are very crucial to tackle the crisis and build resilience.

Normally, youth voices especially young women are unheard at the local and national policymaking. But we are securing our position at the decision-making table through our knowledge leadership and activism.

As a young climate leader, what impact are you most proud of?  

The Bangladesh Parliament has declared climate change as a planetary emergency and is focusing more on the conservation of biodiversity, ecology and nature, which was is great landmark advocacy moment that was led by me. The organization is also working to ensure fair compensation for climate survivors and our youth movement has aligned with Fridays for Future.

Coastal Youth Action Hub is another initiative promoting youth-led innovative solutions and activism. Recently our prime-minister and the Chair of Climate Vulnerable Forum Sheikh Hasina mentioned, “We want to see international carbon markets unlocked for transnational climate cooperation and solutions found to our profound loss, damage and climate injustice. In our war against nature, we will lose unless we unite. We are consciously destroying the very support systems that are keeping us alive. What planet shall we leave for the Greta Thunbergs or those at the Bangladesh Coastal Youth Action Hubs? At COP26 we must not fail them.”

It is another achievement that the Prime Minister referred to our initiative on the global stage.

Biden is holding a summit for world leaders on April 22. If you could say one thing to world leaders this Earth Day, what would it be?

Climate change isn’t an environmental and development issue. It’s an existential threat. We must reach negative zero emissions before 2050. Governments in developed countries have a moral responsibility to lead the way and can do this by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions well before 2050. You have the money and technology to do that. And richer countries should also keep their promise of $100 billion a year to help poorer countries. They didn’t create this crisis but they are suffering most from it.

In a sentence, what does climate justice mean to you? 

Where is my climate justice? If you are like me, the answer is there isn’t any. It is time to address this.

Our message is very clear. Without gender equality, no climate justice. Without climate justice, no gender equality.

Shakila Islam is a leader and activist working to tackle the climate crisis, COVID-19, and also the Rohingya refugee humanitarian crisis. She is the Vice-Chair of the Protiki Jubo Sangshad (Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament), chief coordinator of YouthNet for Climate Justice, and a founding member of Fridays for Future Bangladesh movement. Shakila advocates for the most affected communities and people, especially women and girls, and has represented Bangladeshi young people at the ICPD25 Nairobi summit’s SRHR & climate session. You can follow Shakila on Twitter here and YouthNet here.

Courtesy Portia Adu-Mensa

PORTIA ADU-MENSAH FROM GHANA:  ‘OUR LEADERS MUST SUPPORT GRASSROOTS GIRLS’

As a young climate leader, what impacts are you most proud of?  

In 2019 I got the opportunity to be part of a video documentary done by ActionAid Ghana, which was linked with rising sea levels and how it was impacting girls and young women in that community.

We went to New Town and saw where the rising sea levels had taken out a lot of houses, and the pollution at that level was disastrous. We had to do separation of plastics but also look at the sea defenses and encourage youth to speak up and express what we think was the cause, which is climate change.

We helped explain it to them and also how they can help in solving these issues, and also protect the seas, so we had to train them on different levels. It was an amazing experience for me, and it made me realize they hadn’t heard much about climate change so it had a great impact for them as well.

In a sentence, what does climate justice look like to you?  

Reducing growing inequality.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?  

Women are mostly affected by climate change. We must stand to protect our environment and be the voice of change.

Another project I’m proud of is empowering university students and grassroots youth to become climate activists. I visited a girls’ schools for a renewable energy project, and it was great to see how the young girls were able to come up with ideas for how we can build our own renewable energy.

If you imagine the world in 2030, what does it look like?

A carbon free economy where we all only use our natural resources. Women and girls are empowered at the grassroots to be part of decision making and change.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be? 

Our leaders must empower our grassroot girls with climate skills.

Portia is the Founder and CEO of Dream Hunt, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that works in sustainable development and alternative sources of livelihoods, as well as youth inclusion for development and social welfare. She is a climate change activist in Ghana working to reduce carbon emissions from coal.  She was part of a cohort at the YALI West Africa RLC and stood for president of the Eagle Cohort Group which she won. She is the National Coordinator of 350 Ghana Reducing Our Carbon. She is the secretary of coalition of NGO’s in Tema. Portia also affiliates with 350.org, Water Aid Ghana, Friends of the Earth US, Abibinsroma Foundation, 350Ghana Reducing Our Carbon (350GROC) and Alliance for empowering Rural Communities. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram.  

A woman holds a microphone while seated at a climate change event.

ANA MALIA FALEMAKA FROM TONGA: ‘I HAVE SEEN THE DRAMATIC CHANGES’

Where were you and how old were you when you first realized you wanted to work for climate justice? 

Malo e lelei. To be very honest, I didn’t open my eyes to see the realities of the effects of climate change here in Tonga until back in 2018, when the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Gita destroyed my home island kingdom, leaving people without houses to live in and myself without a classroom to study in.

It was from there that I finally realized how serious the climate crisis issue was and how important it was to play my role in helping to reduce those effects from affecting Tonga.

I’ve seen the dramatic change of our climate. I’ve seen Tropical Cyclones occurring more frequently and I’ve seen how cyclones destroys homes and schools that are vital for girls and young women in enabling them to pursue their dreams for the future!

Most importantly, some young people my age are yet to come to the understanding that the climate crisis is real and that each and every one of us has a role to play in helping build a safer world.

As a young climate leader, what impact are you most proud of?

I am really passionate about being able to help make a change in the world in any way I can, whether big or small. I know that a lot has been done already to help reduce the effects of climate change and I really, really do want to help any way I can!

I started involving myself in various programs and activities such as community and youth cleanups in our local beaches and raising awareness in social media platforms like with a climate strike takeover opportunity provided by CARE Australia. Also utilizing spaces and taking the opportunity to attend forums and workshops in which I can express my opinions and represent the voices of young people like myself regarding the issue of climate change.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

It’s important that world leaders open their eyes and see the seriousness of the climate change issue so we can do more to help reduce these effects.

We have created this issue and we are the only ones who can solve it. As part of the future generation of this world, I represent the millions of voices of our young people in saying: “We can no longer ignore the fact that our world and all living things in it are moving into extinction due to the effects of climate change. Please don’t take our future away from us but rather let us all work together, hand in hand, to help create a much safer and healthier environment for not only us humans but all living things on Earth.”

The key to co-operating and addressing this urgent issue is in our hearts, because if love and hope is in there, we would all be passionate enough to do everything we can to tackle the climate crisis.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?   

I want to be able to hopefully set an example to my sisters and peers that if I can join the fight against climate change, then they can too. As well as being able to show that it is possible for a young Tongan woman to share her voice and insights on global crisis like this! We cannot always rely on our elders and leaders to do everything for us! It is our future at stake here and we must take on our roles and play our part to help fight it! Be passionate about working for climate justice, believe that you can make a difference and you’ll do amazing things benefiting our world.

What do you do in your spare time? 

In my spare time I like to hang out with family and friends, cook, play sports as well as play my guitar and sing a Tongan lullaby. I also lead the children in our village under a Catholic nonprofit organization called St Vincent De Paul Society, in which we serve the elderly and the poor. We visit our them every month to pray as well as do small things for them on Saturdays like cleaning up and things.

I’ve also started reaching out to provide beneficial programs of empowerment for kids, and luckily, I have been able to secure a program with our climate change department here in Tonga for the children in the village to learn about the reality of the climate crisis. Hopefully we’ll be able to do some things with the kids that can help reduce the effects of climate change. I also volunteer to be a teacher’s aid at my school whenever I am on school break.

Ana Malia is an 18-year-old activist who has been working with the Talitha Project, an NGO for young women in Tonga, since she participated in a Girls Empowerment Camp in 2017 hosted by the organization. She has represented the Talitha Project and Tonga on panels and discussion forums at International and Regional Conferences including the Pacific Girl Program hosted in Fiji in 2018 and 2019, an Australian Government Aid (Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development) commitment which focuses on adolescent girl’s needs, rights and opportunities in the Pacific Island countries. She also represented the youth of the Pacific at the 84th Extraordinary Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child 2020 in Apia. 

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