Iva from Young Friends of the Earth Croatia reflects on her experiences in Durban, at the first meeting in Africa of a new joint project between Young Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth Africa and Friends of the Earth international.
Never in my life did I think I would ever end up so far away from home.
Yet somewhere I was off to Durban, South Africa, to participate in the first Young FoEE/FoE Africa cross-regional meeting of youth engaged in climate justice issues.
What is the project about? Well, in order for you to fully understand what I'm talking about here I should start from the very beginning.
If I wanted to introduce Friends of the Earth to a total stranger I would say it is a grassroots network with member groups from all over the world who share a common desire to see a social transformation in the world and help create sustainable, gender-just and equitable societies. I would also say that our strength lies in solidarity and respect for each other's values and diversity.
I know you're all thinking: "Sounds cool! Let's do it!" right about now, but things are, unfortunately, not always that simple.
In both Europe and Africa, obstacles have been indentified to creating such a perfect world. The network itself still needs a lot of work in order to achieve age, gender and socio-economic equity. I'll give you an example: In Young Friends of the Europe, we are all volunteers, predominantly female, middle-class students. We can see in this small example how not everyone in Europe is included in the environmental movement and that we exclude certain groups of the society from joining the fight for our planet. We, as a movement, are still far from our perfectly balanced world.
Friends of the Earth International recognised these imbalances and came up with a project that puts youth at the forefront of change with an objective to build a more inclusive environmental justice movement. The project also creates space for youth to discuss and develop strategies to deal with the intersection of environmental justice with other social justice issues including gender, age, race, ethnicity and class.
In other words, it creates a platform in which youth can develop their own vision of a different world and start to make it happen.
I participated in the first cross-regional meeting in Durban, South Africa and experienced just a tiny fraction of how unjust our current world can be.
I have seen the notorious South Durban "Cancer Valley" where the majority of its youngest inhabitants suffer from some form of asthma, cancer or leukemia because the companies don't care about the amount of pollution they emit in the atmosphere. I've been to their markets where they'd sell anything just to survive another day. I've seen how those markets are the only roof over their heads. They have nowhere else to go.
I have seen injustice. I have felt powerless. And I wanted to see change.
I believe this project has the potential to bring about that change.
During my time in Durban I have spoken to many inspiring people and I believe together we can find creative ways of fighting the system. During these 5 days we have been talking about the events in both Europe's and Africa's past that shaped our present. We worked together to better understand each other and identified the roles that youth can play in addressing environmental injustices in the world.
Each European country was paired with an African counterpart with a similar environmental justice topic, such as coal, monoculture plantations, land grabbing, fracking etc, to allow us to develop concrete cross-regional campaigns to test the tools and methods for engaging young women and men from different backgrounds more effectively.
The results? The project is still ongoing, but I have a good feeling some pretty amazing stuff is going to come out of it. The change is coming, one step at a time. Stay tuned!