EcoMentors Youth Conference: Inspiring Youth

By: Sasha Benevides | Forest Festival Coordinator and Community Outreach Assistant

This past weekend I had the privilege of travelling to the beautiful city of Ottawa to participate in the 2011 EcoMentors Youth Conference. This free event, held at St. Paul’s University, gave youth aged 15 to 24 a chance to get certified as an EcoMentor, collect resources, attend seminars and network with peers and environmental partners. I had never heard of this conference before and felt the added pressure to attend after realizing that next year I would be too old, an EcoAdult even, ineligible to partake in the day dedicated to youth empowering youth. 

Despite the fact that I was most likely one of the oldest participants, the conference was still fun and engaging and an appreciated change to the seminars I was used to in my undergraduate career. I elected to spend my day attending 5 of the 19 offered workshops, but my personal highlight was when Emily Hunter gave her keynote address.  If the name is unfamiliar, Emily Hunter is the daughter of Robert Hunter, co-founder of Greenpeace, and Bobbi Hunter, the first woman to save a whale by putting herself in front of a harpoon (no big deal).  She has been a guest correspondent for local television and newspapers, and you may have seen her on MTV Canada’s show Impact.

At the young age of 27, Emily is far from short on experience in the field.  She has participated in numerous expeditions as a part of Sea Shepherd, compiled segments on the G20 protests, the Alberta Tar Sands and has worked with DeforestACTION.  The focus of her talk however, wasn’t on her numerous accomplishments, but on her book The Next Eco-Warriors.  A book that profiles people who are currently creating local green movements and whose stories will hopefully motivate others to become Eco-Warriors themselves in their own community.  I was able to hear speakers from Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, Ontario Nature, and Canadian Forestry Association, but Emily’s opening address stuck with me.  Maybe it was seeing someone not far from my own age so motivated, using creative and dynamic methods to advocate for our environment.  But hearing her talk about organizations like 350.org and New York’s Guerilla gardener Tanya Fields really inspired me and had me excited to see what today’s youth can and will accomplish in their lifetime. 

 Let’s face it. Being classified as a ‘youth’ in our world doesn’t always garner teens and young adults’ environmental voices attention or respect. How often do we see people of all ages litter, waste and make environmentally destructive decisions? It can be discouraging.  What would be even more discouraging is feeling like you were the only one concerned.  For this and many other reasons I am very happy Earth Day Canada and the Sierra Youth Coalition put on these events. 

Not only does it connect people, it provides good environmental role models and encourages youth to not let the message die with them, but to continue their work and become EcoMentors themselves.  To seek others they can encourage and pass on information to. Whether it be integrating a waste program in your school, or lobbying for an environmental cause you believe in. I can only hope events like this grow and continue to foster relationships in the environmental community and support our youth that are trying so hard to reverse some of the poor decisions made by past generations instead of alienate them.

 These youth are after all our future, and with all the ominous environmental news that surrounds us, they could use all the support they can get.

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