Young People Dismantling Stereotypes: Transforming Aspirations to Concrete Action on Climate Change

Dean of the CYAs, Renee Atwell

By Tusankine English Francis, Lisa Bayley, Stacy Adams, Michelle Small-Bartley, Nancy Nusser and Daphne Ewing-Chow

They are from diverse social, cultural, and geographical backgrounds, with varying academic goals and professional callings, but they are joined by a common interest: tackling an existential threat to the very existence of the Caribbean – climate change. They are the 2021/22 CARICOM Youth Ambassadors, and while some say, “youth is wasted on the young,” they are on a mission to reconstruct opinions on youth involvement in climate change and other serious issues.

Their unbridled passion for transforming aspirations into concrete actions on issues pertaining to sustainable development resonated vibrantly during their recent interactions with International Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Communications Consultant, Lisa Bayley, of the five-year EU-funded project which has as its call to action: Empowering Caribbean Action for Climate Change and Health.

With a smile, that radiates unfettered enthusiasm, Zaria Ingham, one of two CARICOM Youth Ambassadors for the Turks and Caicos Islands, an Associate Member of CARICOM, is eager to liaise with like-minded young people to “transform their ideas into practical projects in the Caribbean.”

Zaria Ingham

“Caribbean people, policymakers, youth, we need to take action on climate change and health now because it has come to a point in time where we are beginning to experience mother nature’s wrath and if we don’t do something soon, the damage will be irreversible,” Zaria asserted.

“But if we can change the present, then the projects that we are implementing today will have a chance at inspiring a bright and successful future. As a region, we need to take a more proactive response. We need to make good choices. We may be a small group compared to other regions, but every small act counts.”

Her “Project Green”, is designed to educate youth about climate change and its effect on the environment, and highlight sustainable, innovative actions they can take to counteract this phenomenon. She is keen to work with established youth organisations and departments of Government to create solutions and spur entrepreneurial opportunism.

Dean of the CYAs, Renee Atwell, is an Attorney-at-Law and Trinidad and Tobago’s CARICOM Youth Ambassador. Her interest in regional integration grew as a student at the UWI Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, where she was a member of the Vice-Chancellor Ambassador Corp.

Renee wants to establish relations with youth development stakeholders, private and public sector players and international organisations to further work in relation to Sustainable Development Goals, advocacy, and empowerment. Gender equality, reducing inequalities, climate change and environmental sustainability are the broad areas her team will be focusing on as they map out the agenda of the Twin Island’s Youth Ambassador Programme, over the next two years.

Already conceptualising how to best utilise the One Health Approach, Trinidad and Tobago’s youth leaders are finalising a project that would create incentives for young farmers to produce more locally grown foods. They envisage training workshops to develop young farmers’ capacity to adopt modern farming techniques and technologies to produce more effectively, thereby reducing the impact of climate change on food security, through variances in temperatures and weather.

“We are thinking along the lines of incentives and training for farmers to produce more locally and to reduce our food import bills. We also want to address the need for infrastructure to adopt more modern farming techniques so that they can produce more effectively and better deal with the effects climate change may have on food production. We will also work on creating a food advocacy campaign around food security in Trinidad and Tobago,” Renee explained.

Building youth awareness

It is widely felt that despite the impacts of increasing, more intense natural disasters induced by climate change and climate variability, indifference pervades among young people. This project is therefore intended to train CARICOM Youth Ambassadors to guide the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of projects to build youth awareness in the related areas of climate change and health.

The project, funded by the European Union, is truly integration-driven, involving organisations located at the epicentre of functional cooperation; namely, CARICOM, PAHO, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), and the University of the West Indies (UWI).

While this multi-stakeholder partnership has a very technical focus on turning plans and policy into action on climate change and health, there is also a philosophical underpinning emerging from elements involving the Climate Change and Health Leaders fellowship-training programme and CARICOM Youth Ambassadors.

From the Fellowship, professionals are already being trained to work in climate change and health to support implementing change, empowering communities and reinforcing youth engagement. This element and the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors programme represent a critical meeting of the older and younger generation in the fight against climate change. It is a meeting of experienced and innovative thinkers, not only to formulate actions for adaptation to climate change, but also to develop capacity in the segment of the population that will lead sustainable action.

“This is a time when we need to ask and reach out and include the youth in these discussions. With the innovative ideas from the youth and experience from the older generation, we can create a sustainable way to combat climate change,” Zaria said, supporting the advocacy for a collaborative, multi-sectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach to tackling the impact of climate change on health.

She is already putting that approach into practice by planning a conference in conjunction with Junior Achievement Turks & Caicos Islands (JATCI) and the Department of Youth. JATCI is a nonprofit organisation that provides young people ages 15 to 19 with learning experiences designed to inspire and prepare them for success in the global economy.

The organisation partners with the business community, educators and volunteers to inspire young people to dream big and reach their potential through hands-on, experiential programmes. Zaria will draw on the knowledge of Climate Change and Environmental experts to educate the youth about this critical topic and hopes that by the end of the conference, participants will create a business idea to sustain the environment and slow the progress of climate change.

“It would be remiss if we didn’t undertake work that dealt with climate change and health advocacy. We are looking at air pollution, mental health, flooding, water-borne diseases and food security,” Renee said, revealing the urgency of cooperation, across sectors and generations.

The CYAs represent a dynamic group of both young women and men overflowing with ideas to enhance youth capacity and reduce their countries’ carbon footprint on the environment.

Yakub Nestor

St Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, is embarking on increasing access to green spaces, a project similar to an undertaking by the CYAs in Barbados.

Multi-talented Yakub Nestor, a special education teacher of visually impaired children with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, is particularly concerned about the reduction of natural water systems from springs and mountain regions. He is keen on tackling that issue as well as advocating for stricter laws in the maritime industry, to reduce pollution from waste emitted by the cruise and sailing industry in the Region.

Dwane Hendrickson of St Kitts and Nevis, who survived both Hurricanes Irma and Maria while studying in the USVI, also revealed an intriguing mix of interests with his accounting training crisscrossing with his love for the environment. He is currently coordinating a Youth Capacity Building Project in St Kitts and Nevis that will allow 20 youth groups to design and deliver Sustainable Development interventions in their community within six months of the start of the project.

Dwane Hendrickson

Dwane emphasised the need for adequate and sustainable preparation, recalling the increased frequency and severity of storms in the Caribbean, as well as the effects of climate on, for example, the Solomon Islands.

“Literally, islands are disappearing because of climate change. It is even impacting the fish supply. So, it is not just about us here in the Caribbean,” he noted with alarm.

Java Sealy

Java Sealy, one of two CYAs for Barbados, is keen to use his skills to advance discussion and action on climate and health and see meaningful change.

“We need to take action on climate action now,” he said.

“We need to reverse the worrying health trends that we face, while getting consumers to make more climate conscious choices… It has the potential to effect ecosystems, food systems and limited natural resources, like Barbados and its intense water scarcity.”

Megan Theobalds

Java, along with his colleague, Megan Theobalds, a former Miss Barbados, and integration studies graduate, is planning to work with the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance’s tree planting project. The goal is to create awareness about the need to plant more and create green areas for beautification, provide shade and to contribute to sustainable food production, reducing our food import bill.

However, they are conscious that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the climate change battle, worldwide.

“Before the pandemic, there was a great thrust toward climate action. We were surer it was going to happen. And then the pandemic hit, and we had to deal with this public health crisis. So, I am hoping that climate action can be far more seriously taken at this point,” Java remarked.

We invite you to follow the project and the work of these future trailblazers for action on climate change and health on the project page, as well as CARICOM and the UWI Fellowship pages.

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