YELF is unforgettable in many ways.
Who gets the opportunity to spend a week in one of the most beautiful parts of NZ (Abel Tasman) learning from field leaders and creating solutions for the future of our world? I'll never forget cooking with MasterChef, popping into the guy who helped NZ buy a beach, kayaking past baby seals, asking Nelson locals for piggy-backs during Goose Chase, climbing up Adele Island, or swimming with orcas in Cable Bay. The knowledge I've gained about issues such as pest eradication, ocean acidification, and the importance of preserving New Zealand’s biodiversity has been invaluable, and I can't wait to share it with my community and people that I meet.
But what has been most unforgettable about YELF is this feeling of connectedness. Connection to other young people that care about the environment, to perspectives and issues from all over NZ and the Pacific, chaperones who want to support us, people of influence who have shown genuine interest in our ideas.
This week I found a whole new family and a new sense of hope for our world. We came from near and far; the beaches of Northland and Abel Tasman, mountain ranges of the Kepler and Taranaki, the geysers of Rotorua and the skyscrapers of Auckland. Each one of our backgrounds are diverse, yet our stories of love for the environment unify these. As Simone Cioe - our favourite Italian backpacker/videographer said to us, ‘Your story is the most beautiful thing you have to share’. Palau, where water is short but marine conservation is abundant; Canterbury and the Clutha, where rivers are drying up but our young people are the spokespersons for solutions.
I walked out of the airport on the final day feeling I had each and every one of these people and stories with me. I'll always smile at the late nights spent singing in circles, and the ‘cheeky’ red socks we now wear with pride.
Before YELF many of us felt alone in environmental pursuits, or down about the future of our natural world. However, we realised this is the solution: connection and understanding.
Often environmentalists are quite separate from the rest of society. However, this week we learnt that meaningful change only comes when we start to understand others point of view, and when we begin to collaborate with those who are different from us. When we work together with people across all ends of the spectrum, we are able to create solutions that work better for everyone. For anyone reading, take joy in this: We are here. We are young people who love our environment, young leaders connecting people and communities. All of us, including you, are part of a global network of positive change and solutions. We are all connected in this beautiful world, and together we are making a better future.