Addressing the climate and biodiversity crises calls for creativity, transformation, and collective action. Around the world, young people are leading climate action and social justice movements, re-greening the land, and building sustainable communities in their regions. This year, coinciding with the European Year of Youth, the 6th European Day of Sustainable Communities, #EDSC2022, provides a platform to celebrate and support the young leaders and youth-led initiatives that are shaping our present and future communities across Europe.
During a Communities for Future session on 19 September, we heard from four impressive young leaders who are envisioning and walking pathways towards a positive future – regenerative, more equitable, life-affirming, peaceful, and thriving in line with nature.
Campaigning for food security and a fairer education system
As a social justice activist, Yumna spoke about how her activism stems from her own lived experience in Birmingham and how she got involved with a project run by the Transition Network. She is passionate about food security and building a fairer education system. Yumna’s work involves campaigning the government to include climate education within every subject in schools, so that young people can feel empowered and have agency to create change and so that our schools become more connected to nature.
She is also involved in Bite Back 2030, a campaign to extend free school meals to all children in poverty so that young people have access to healthy food. Yumna says, “How can we make sure that every stakeholder within the food system actually engages with food and their opinions and their views are heard to create a healthier food system that is more robust, sustainable and environmentally friendly?”.
What is your vision of a positive future in Europe that you are leading from?
Merushe envisions a greener Europe – one that uses less and less meat, a Europe that is going back to the earth, the villages, that appreciates the earth, soil, greenery and landscape. Merushe, who is from Albania, made the important point that Europe, the continent, and the European Union are different things, although the concept of “Europe” is often associated with the EU.
Working at the grassroots level with PVN Albania, Merushe is involved in various initiatives on climate change, permaculture and the environment, including workshops for children on the outskirts of Tirana. Merushe talks of the energy and enthusiasm that children bring and will be organising similar workshops in different cities around Albania, “NGOs are mostly concentrated in the capital, the rest of the country remains uncovered by the activist work and especially work with youngsters on such topics. I’m looking forward to conducting these workshops and to bright[en] the young minds on such topics.”
Transformation comes from within – The Welcome Giovani project for young changemakers
Riccardo “married” into the ecovillage lifestyle some years ago and ended up putting down roots in an ecovillage where he had spent summer camps as a kid – the Community of Living Ethics in Italy. Nowadays, Riccardo supports other young people on their personal sustainability journeys through the Welcome Giovani project. The project uses an approach called psychosynthesis that allows people to learn about their inner selves. A group of people aged 22-32 spend a minimum of six months in the programme, receiving training on psychosynthesis, permaculture and organic regenerative agriculture and learning how to live together.
Riccardo says that when the individuals leave, “they feel so changed that they enter the world with a different mindset and they establish more ethical relationships outside with everybody … with themselves, with people, with all the activities, with their political choices, their economic choices”. Riccardo collaborates with RIVE, the Italian ecovillage network, to promote this model and support the emergence of different youth programmes in Italy. Coming soon is a new social eco-entrepreneurship programme!
“We face climate change by taking actions, by speaking out and by being the voice of the unheard ones”
Selma’s journey as a climate activist started as a student who was curious about what was happening in the world and the injustice that made so many people who are barely contributing to climate change be the most affected by it. At a young age, Selma, who is from Algeria, joined the KidsRights Changemakers Program in the Netherlands and the “Be the Change” event. She expressed the overarching feeling and drive found through these spaces, “We are a generation that is facing this [climate change]. It’s not our fault but we have to contribute to ending it. So we accepted this ugly fact and to face it by taking actions, by speaking out and by being the voice of the unheard ones.”
Selma is part of YOUNGO, the UN Climate Change official children and youth constituency, and went on to found her own NGO – Together for Blue and Green. The initiative runs events in universities and plans to collaborate with others across Europe, Africa, and the MENA region. “We are seeing interest, we are seeing impact, we are seeing people wanting to do the same and that’s the reason why we’re here as well, to encourage each other, we can still do more”, says Selma.
What next? Identify a common purpose and support intergenerational exchange
In the breakout rooms, participants had the chance to get to know each other and chat with the guest speakers. The need for greater interaction between youngsters and elders was stressed, to move out of their bubbles and get them in the same room. To recognise that we are here for the same purpose – identify a common purpose and act from there. When tension arises due to non alignment, there is a need for inner work. Riccardo reminded us that we need to know our talents and act on what we can best bring to the table.
When faced with eco-anxiety, some of the young leaders talked of remembering that we can still do something, minimise the impacts, but that it is important to also face the reality and not sugarcoat it. When it comes to the climate emergency, it is everyone’s responsibility and it is important for climate activists to be seen: “They have to see us trying, crying and being angry” added Selma.
Thanks to our incredible guest speakers for joining us as part of #EDSC2022 and the European Year of Youth and sharing their stories with us. You can watch the full recording below and download the slides.