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Youth planting seeds of change

POSTED June 19, 2023

Youth planting seeds of change

How fighting climate change advances gender equality.

By Jins Joseph, Children Believe India

girl on the ground planting a tree

“I never realized or understood the impact of climate change on my community, and especially on girls like me.”

This was the revelation of Thilothama, a young girl in a village of Dalit and tribal families. Like many in rural India, people are mostly unaware of the harmful effects that climate change poses to their daily lives. But Thilothama’s experience in a Youth for Climate and Children Collectives (YCCC) club helped her learn about the issue and how it affects her and those she cares for.

She was one of 6,000 young people who participated in a YCCC club in 2022, as part of the Building Youth Leadership for Climate Action project, which promoted youth leadership and climate literacy. The Children Believe youth-led climate action program was a collaboration of its partner agencies in India (SPEECH, IRCDS and ROPES), funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

“Climate change is not just a problem, it’s a crisis,” says Prabhavathi, a YCCC club member from a different village in southern India. “The impact of climate change, such as extreme weather patterns, droughts, and floods, is a crisis affecting our daily lives.”

Girls and women are particularly affected because it’s primarily their chore to collect water in the intense heat, Prabhavathi explains, something she learned in her YCCC club. In times of drought or flooding, they must drop out of school because of the much greater time needed to fetch clean water for their families. Not only are girls forced out of school when disasters strike, but the threat of being harassed or even attacked goes up dramatically as they travel far from home. So the project has empowered girls through an emphasis on equality, to take a leadership role in this area and be advocates for themselves to have access to education.

I used to miss school during droughts because we didn’t have enough water at home. But now, thanks to this climate action initiative, we have access to clean water, and I can continue my education without interruption,” Prabhavathi shared.

The YCCC clubs were formed for youth between the ages of 13 and 24, and using video modules these young people were taught about climate science, global warming, environmental pollution, and climate events in their southern area of India, including the impacts on lives and livelihoods. In turn, these young people share their knowledge and actions to create positive change with others in their villages.

“I never thought that I would be able to make a difference in the fight against climate change, but with the climate action club, I know that my actions matter,” adds Yuva, a young girl from yet another tribal village. “I am proud to be a part of this movement, and I am grateful for the support and opportunities to contribute to actions addressing climate change.”

Another method for providing education on the issue came through access to a mobile phone app that hosts videos on the causes and effects of climate change. The YouCan mobile app was developed by Children Believe as part of the program, to be a tool for raising awareness about climate action and promoting the active participation of marginalized groups.

Sandhya, from another village in the region, lists a number of actions she and her friends in their YCCC club have done to create positive change, including Oxy Parks, where thousands of trees have been planted, an important response to climate change.

“There has been a significant change in the attitudes and actions of the youth, especially the girls in our community,” says Sandhya. “We stepped forward and took an active role in strategic actions to reduce the effects of climate change by planting trees on special occasions, collecting plastics and selling them to recycling units, and practicing segregation of wet and dry waste at the community level.

“We also practiced waste composting and used the manure for kitchen gardening,” she adds. “We participated in discussions with local authorities, organized rallies and gatherings, and educated other community members.”

Out of the 6,000 youth, 55 percent were girls and young women. Since the YCCC clubs started, the school dropout rate in the two Indian states where Children Believe works has been reduced, and access to clean water has been improved.

In describing positive changes, Thilothama’s responses touch on intersectionality, an area of focus for Children Believe, which involves understanding systems of inequality based on gender, caste, race, ethnicity, class and other forms of discrimination that often have negative impacts on these societal groups. Children Believe India is a centre of excellence for gender and social inclusion, and this thinking has been built into all of their work, including the Building Youth Leadership for Climate Action project.

“I believed that only boys were capable of leading the fight against climate change,” she explains. “But now, I know that girls like me have just as much power and potential to make a difference in our community as anyone else.”

– With contributions from Stephen Paul Cruz, Krishnan Kalirajan and Esther Magdalene.

By investing in girls’ education, we’re creating positive change, empowering communities and fighting climate change, see how you can help below!

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Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.

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