YEA Campers Love Turkeys!

bizaro-thanksgivingThanksgiving is often happily referred to as “Turkey Day,” but many people have never actually considered the turkey.

Turkeys are much more complex animals than most people give them credit for. friendly, loving animals and of comparable intelligence to the dogs and cats so many of us care about. Unfortunately, though, they are not protected by the same animal cruelty laws, and about 40 million of them are treated miserably and killed horrifically for holiday dinners across the US.

13880369_10155137198384698_7681797829279448640_nAt YEA Camp, we attract some of the most kind-hearted teens on the planet: changemakers who care about animals, our planet, and all people (who are animals too!). Our New York session of camp is held at the inspirational Woodstock Animal Sanctuary, and our campers have loved meeting, hugging, and even massaging(!) the sanctuary’s turkeys, who are living life in paradise after suffering miserably on factory farms.

In honor of Thanksgiving, we are reflecting on our campers who this summer got to see turkeys as friends, not food.

rachael-w-turkey13726843_10155111045219698_5057177882200543933_n13921173_10155203924819698_2359289805246694149_n

13754506_10155111045079698_8258703709760237457_n13697088_10155111045134698_7103696608539889197_n13876521_10155137198664698_741896003178768336_nWe are grateful for everyone who is celebrating a compassionate “Happy Turkey Day” today — perhaps enjoying a delicious Tofurky or other delicious cruelty-free main dishes. And of course amazing side dishes too!

If you are a 12-17 year-old who cares about animals and would want to join us at YEA Camp this summer, we will be opening up registration next week — including an “early bird” special (no pun intended!) for the month of December.

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10 Ways Parents Can Empower Their Courageous Child Activist

Have you seen this video? An adorable 6-year-old activist, Henry Marr, gives an emotional plea to his mother about wanting to save the environment. If you’re not one of the nearly 17 million people who have seen it, then watch it right now. You’ll thank us.


Endearing, right? How can you not be moved by this kid’s passion for the environment?

At YEA Camp, we know that as a loving parent it warms your heart to see your kid display such enthusiasm for an important cause. We also know that it can be upsetting to see your child feel so helpless over wishing they knew how to make a difference.

Don’t fret, loving parents, at YEA Camp we specialize in empowering children and teenagers to make the world a better place. That’s why we’ve devised a helpful list so you can nurture your courageous kid’s activism.

1. Make It Fun

1 MakeItFun

Look Ma, activism is a blast!

The cause itself may be super serious, but your kid’s fight for the cause doesn’t have to be.

Did someone say delicious vegan cupcakes? How about assisting your child in holding a bake sale to raise money for their cause?

1 Cupcakes

I’ll have three, please! Okay, let’s make that four!

Tapping into their artistic or creative talents, using social media, or getting friends involved are other great ways to make activism fun. Your kid’s much more likely to stick with their activism if they have a good time doing it.

2. Connect With Organizations

2 Featured Organizations

Now that your child is inspired to care about a particular cause, it’s important that he or she understands that cause and sees how others are tackling the issue.

The best way to learn is by introducing them to respected organizations that are leading the way on their respective issue.

Don’t have time to do all that research? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a helpful cheat sheet of amazing organizations that are fighting for the environment, LGBT rights, human rights, animal rights and more.

3. Listen To Your Kids… Really Listen

Children are full of wisdom if parents take the time to listen to them, and we’ve got two epic examples of parents who do just that.

In this first video, a young child in Nepal finds out that his parents are taking his beloved goat to be slaughtered, so he does everything in his power to get his parents to spare the animal’s life. His tenacity and kindness are an inspiration to behold. Imagine the trauma if his parents had ignored his pleas.


In this second viral video, a toddler in Brazil has a heartfelt debate with his mother at the dinner table about the ethics of killing and eating other animals. His points are both innocent and poignant, as only a child can articulate.


These videos aren’t depicting children throwing bratty tantrums. These kids are sensitive souls who realize that the adults around them are harming animals, and it upsets them. The parents are respectful enough to listen to their children’s merciful pleas and agree not to harm the animals. These are beautiful moments of compassion caught on camera.

Whatever issues inspire your kids to express their passion, your support empowers them to think for themselves and to pursue their compassionate nature to be a caring person.

4. Introduce Them To A Mentor

shelby_kim

Say hi to Shelby!

A great way to learn about a subject is to seek guidance from someone who specializes in that field. Help your child find an expert who’s willing to advise them on their journey of discovery.

This is an area in which we really pride ourselves at YEA Camp. Our talented staff is comprised of highly qualified professionals with teaching credentials and expertise in youth development, as well as accomplished former campers like Shelby, with much wisdom to impart. We give each camper the counseling they need to get their activism off to the right start.

5. Join Them!

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Joyce & her mother Mildred on their way to the People’s Climate March. What an inspiring team!

What better way to encourage your budding activist than to join them in their activism? Not only can this make it more fun (see #1) and double their impact, but it also creates a supportive family culture, where it’s understood that people care about others and stand up for what they believe in. Plus, you’ll definitely have more to talk about at the dinner table than what they learned (or didn’t learn) in school.

6. Well, Join Them… Within Reason


No kid wants their parent hanging out with them all the time. Give them space to follow their passion independently as well. Sometimes that could mean just giving them a ride somewhere, helping them manage their schedule, or asking if they need any help.

7. Say, “Yes, You Can,” Not “No, You Can’t”


See all those demoralizing insults Simon Cowell spewed at aspiring singers on “American Idol”? As a parent, do the opposite.

If your kid tells you that he or she wants to reduce homelessness in your town, don’t discourage them with details about how difficult it’s going to be. Celebrate that they care about such a crucial cause, and help them set goals for bringing about that change. Twelve-year-old Megan has raised thousands of dollars with her school club for homeless people in Boston.

Kids need someone to tell them to dream big, and to help them strive for their goals, not set low expectations.

8. Help Them Believe In Themselves


All too often our worst enemy is ourselves. Kids can be really hard on themselves, shooting down their own great plans before they’ve even given them a try, because they’re afraid they’re not up to the task. As their parent, you can give them the confidence they need to tackle any undertaking, no matter how impossible it may seem.

Providing a safe and loving home environment, encouragement in their endeavors, as well as support, perspective and understanding when things don’t go as planned.

9. Set A Positive Example


Be the type of person who rescues a baby elephant who is stuck in a mud hole. Your kids will be better people with a role model like that. Whether it’s rescuing an animal (have you noticed we like animals at YEA Camp?), donating money to a nonprofit or candidate, volunteering, or conserving, the lessons your kids learn from watching you will last a lifetime.

10. Teach Intersectionality

This one’s a Level 5 on the empowerment scale, but it’s important to note that oppressive institutions—racism, sexism and so on—are interconnected and you’ll expand your child’s understanding of the world by helping them make those connections.

Does your child care about the environment? Great! Teach him or her the ways in which pollution disproportionately affects poor people and people of color, or how the environment is negatively impacted by the meat industry.

Does your child want to stop bullying? Fantastic! Teach him or her about how LGBT youth are nearly twice as likely to be bullied than their non-LGBT peers.

We need the next generation of advocates to be aware of the interconnection of the many different issues we face and to be allies for these different causes.

Best Parent Of The Year!

Thank you for being your kid’s greatest champion! We need more brave young change-makers in this world, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

You’ve raised a compassionate kid who wants to make a difference. It would be our great honor at YEA Camp to meet your wonderful young activist (the camp is open to kids ages 12-17) and guide him or her to follow their dreams. At YEA Camp, they’ll be surrounded by like-minded peers and adults who want to help them, and they’ll develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to take action on what really matters to them.

Follow the above tips (and send your kids to YEA Camp or nominate someone who you know would love it!), and they’ll be well on their way to achieving great things, because any parent should support a kid who’d really rather visit a broccoli farm than support animal abuse at the circus.

 

Posted in Activist Tips, Resources, social justice summer cmap, teen leadership camp, youth activism, Youth Empowered Action | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life-Changing Summer Camp Serves Life-Saving Food

by Lauren Scheller-Wolf

Hey everyone! I’m Lauren and I attended Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp this past summer at the beautiful Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, a sanctuary for rescued farm animals in High Falls, New York. It was an awesome experience. I learned SO much and I met so many new people while also having fun!

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Lauren at Farm Sanctuary, a rescue sanctuary for farm animals in Watkins Glen, New York

A great thing about YEA Camp is that it’s 100 percent vegan, so no meat or animal products like eggs or milk are used in any of its food. This is awesome for a lifelong vegan-since-birth teen like me because, while it’s getting easier to be vegan every day, it’s still nice to go somewhere and be surrounded by like-minded people!

I know what you’re thinking. If you’re vegan, you’re probably thinking something like, “That sounds amazing! I want to go to YEA Camp!” and if you’re not vegan, you might be thinking, “No meat or eggs or dairy? That sounds horrible!” or maybe, “I don’t get it, why would they have that policy?”

Well, first let me explain a little bit about why I’m vegan.

My parents went vegan before I was born. I’ve never eaten meat or animal products and I never will; once you’ve held a baby goat, or petted a cow and realized how much they remind you of your dogs (except bigger), there’s really no going back.

How could I eat something that has been killed just so I could eat it?

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Fawn, a young cow who lives at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, where YEA Camp NY 2015 was held.

I go to the grocery store and look at the meat department and see peaceful, sentient beings whose only fault was being born a cow or a pig or a chicken. I couldn’t eat someone who spent his brief life crammed in a tiny cage with no space to move. Someone who has never seen the sun or felt the grass under his feet. Someone who has seen her babies get ripped away from her year after year. Someone who has spent his or her entire existence listening to the screams of creatures being slaughtered.

And, even if the animals were raised “humanely,” death is still death.

That’s why I’m vegan. Now, why YEA Camp is vegan…

Here’s what YEA Camp’s website says on the subject:

YEA Camp is all about changing the world, and we feel it would be hypocritical if we served food similar to the standard American diet, which has led to skyrocketing rates of diet-related diseases, ecological disasters, and cruelty to animals, among other injustices of modern agriculture.

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Lauren hanging with the turkeys at YEA Camp New York, August 2015

YEA takes pride in every meal at camp being delicious, as well as modeling the sustainable, ethical, and compassionate world we look to create. We are being the change we wish to see at every meal… All of the food at YEA Camp is vegan, fair-trade, local and organic to the greatest extent possible… It is also delicious! This is in alignment with our intention to practice living in the most sustainable and compassionate ways possible during our brief time at camp.”


I can’t say it any better than that!  And the food 
is delicious!

Ok, so maybe you’re still concerned. (“Are we going to eat nothing but broccoli? What is there left to eat?”) If so, check out this video
. Actually, you should check it out even if you weren’t thinking that. It’s pretty awesome.

You won’t notice the lack of meat, I promise! And if you’re still not convinced, check out YEA Camp’s page on its website, which gives examples of what it serves its campers every day.

Montreal 050.JPGPS: If you’d like to learn more about veganism, please check out the following links:

-Farm Sanctuary is a sanctuary for rescued farm animals. It also has a lot of info on veganism: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/

– ChooseVeg has a lot of information on many different aspects of veganism: http://www.chooseveg.com/

Want to learn more about YEA Camp, which helped inspire Lauren’s passion for animal rights activism? Check out YEA Camp.org to see if it’s right a young change-maker you know!

 

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TAKE OUR QUIZ: Should you work at a life-changing leadership camp for teens changing the world?

1557406_10152624735564698_107012194_o-300x199YEA CAMP IS HIRING FOR THE SUMMER!

Take our quiz to see if you should apply to work at our life-changing summer camp for social change!

1. Want to work with the best teenagers in the world and have a super inspiring experience with amazing staff in a beautiful location this summer? Do you want to be an important part of a program training and supporting the next generation of changemakers addressing the pressing issues of our time?

2. Are you a dedicated progressive activist working in positive, peaceful, strategic ways to make our world a better place? Do you have experience in lots of different types of activism and are you supportive of a variety of progressive issues, including animal rights, climate change, anti-racism, women’s rights/pro-choice, and gay rights? Can you model being respectful of people who disagree with you? (No angry activists, please.)

yeacampersclimate33.Do you have experience working with teenagers (either at camps, as a teacher, or other youth programs) and want to mentor and support inspired young people who want to make a big difference in the world?

4. Are you comfortable as a teacher, facilitator, or public speaker to be in front of the room, direct a group of people in a loud enough voice, and lead activities in an engaging way?

5. Are you self aware, having overcome challenges and done work on yourself, and  willing to go out of your comfort zone to be a role model for campers to overcome their own obstacles and move beyond their fears?

unnamed (4)6. Are you willing to be silly enough to lead goofy name games, play “Big Booty” (don’t worry, we’ll teach you), and get down at the dance party, and are you also open-hearted enough to really share yourself in our community in a way that makes it safe for campers to be themselves and feel accepted?

7. Do you have great judgment to ensure safety such that parents would be thrilled to have you look after their kids?

8. Are you a good communicator, don’t create or encourage drama, and committed to being a team player – even if something isn’t going your way or someone is not behaving as you’d like – to help ensure a great experience for everyone at YEA Camp?

558188_10151287769019698_1016844318_n (1)9.Does eating kid-friendly mostly organic, vegan meals prepared with love by amazing chefs (which we are now hiring for! Maybe this is you?!) sound delicious to you? (Gluten- and allergy-free, etc., available as needed.)

10. Are you available this summer to work at one or more of our 8-day, 7-night camps, as well as attend a 4-day staff training immediately before, in Massachusetts, New York, or California on these dates?

IF YOU ANSWERED YES TO ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS, YOU ARE OFFICIALLY HIRED! COME WORK AT YEA CAMP IMMEDIATELY!

Er, actually, we got so excited that we maybe got a little ahead of ourselves. We mean you should apply right away to work at YEA Camp this summer! 🙂

We are hiring counselors, chefs (head and assistant), and a health supervisor for each of our sessions and a photographer and videographer for at least one session. We are also hiring for someone to work on publicity and administrative work in the months before YEA Camp begins.

Take a look at our detailed job descriptions here and apply this instant! Or at your earliest convenience! We can’t wait to hear from and hopefully work with you this summer.

10551097_10152603802116462_4051281594581897058_nTo apply, submit resume, references, and cover letter explaining your interest in working for YEA Camp, and which session(s) you’re interested in working at to info@yeacamp.org.

For more information about YEA Camp, visit www.yeacamp.org.

And please also spread the word by sharing this blog post with others who might be a great fit as a staff member, or sharing this post with potential campers aged 12-17 who would love YEA Camp.

Thanks so much for your interest in YEA Camp! We hope to hear from you soon and to work with you this summer!

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“What Is the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Done?” Read This Teen’s Answer

unnamed (3)By Amanda Houdeschell

YEA Camp
was one of the best weeks of my life. I honestly do not have anything negative to say about it! On my application for PETA2’s Youth Advisory Board, I was asked “What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?” And I said YEA Camp! Because where else do you have the opportunity to be with other like-minded people, eat AMAZING vegan food, and learn how to be an effective activist, all at the same time?

unnamed (4)Even though I was one of the oldest campers, I was constantly being inspired by ALL of the other kids; it did not matter if they were 11 or 17. What all of them had accomplished even before camp was moving, and what they had planned for after camp was just exhilarating to hear about. The community was full of positivity- no bullying, no gossiping, people would not even let you put yourself down! The counselors were wonderfully diverse, yet they were all brought together by their passion for activism.

For every topic there was a counselor that specialized in it, which meant that we got to create our IOIs (Issue of Importance) with someone who had firsthand experience in that area. Our relationship with our counselors continues to flourish because they stay in touch with us, giving us connections related to our campaigns, telling us about events we may be interested in, and providing support, because being an activist is not always easy.

We had several workshops every day, and they were all extremely interesting and informational. My favorite one was about intersectionality, because it’s important to realize how all areas of injustice connect in some way. I actually replicated it when I got home in my environmental club at school!

We learned about campaigning, which was helpful because I had no idea there was a right and wrong way to passing out leaflets! There were also two workshops dedicated specifically to racism and gender, because being knowledgeable about these issues is helpful no matter what area of activism you want to go into. We talked about school clubs (which gave me many ideas for the environmental club that I had just started) and nonviolent communication (which is beneficial to ALL aspects of your life — not just activism!).

It was also evident that the staff cared about us as people, not just as activists. The most vivid memory I have of camp was being asked to write down the raw emotions behind and about the causes we care about. Why do we care about the issues that we do? What makes us so passionate? These were all questions that we were told to ponder while writing our responses. When we were finished, everyone’s reflections were read anonymously. Many tears were shed, but the support we received for sharing these more hidden parts of ourselves was immense.

11885117_947275495325278_2414757146906617726_oTowards the end of the week, we had our YEA Show, where we had the opportunity to share talents or projects or anything that we wanted to show that we hadn’t yet that week. Sometimes the acts were goofy (I did a trio with two counselors, me on piccolo, one of them on flute, and the other on an Indian flute, where we performed a silly rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), and sometimes they were extremely deep (campers and counselors alike shared powerful poetry about activism).

The best part about this night was that EVERYONE got a standing ovation. We did this for two other events as well — when we were telling everyone about our action plan (what we wanted to do with our IOI after camp) and when we were doing a public speaking activity. How amazing it feels to be only a senior in high school and have already received three standing ovations in my life. There is nothing that boosts your confidence more than that! The staff also made sure that we accepted the applause, because even though it may not seem like it, learning to embrace people’s appreciation for you is just as crucial as anything we learned in a workshop.

558188_10151287769019698_1016844318_n (1)The food was exceptional, and it was incredibly exciting to find out that several campers, who had come to the camp for issues other than animal rights, decided to go vegan after camp! It definitely demonstrated that many people will find that vegan food is amazing and that maintaining a vegan lifestyle is totally possible, if they are just presented with some good vegan food to try!

Some breakfast foods included French toast, breakfast sandwiches, and pancakes; some examples of snacks were watermelon, popcorn, and hummus; lunches were anything from veggie burgers to pizza to grilled cheese; our amazing dinners were usually some sort of ethnic food — Mexican, Indian, and Chinese to name a few; and every night ended with a dessert such as brownies, cookies, or cupcakes.

Plus, our cooks were especially talented in accommodating dietary needs people had, like gluten-free, berry-free, and soy-free. They also pride themselves in cooking with organic and local ingredients as much as possible. No one ever went hungry that week!

We were very fortunate at our camp specifically because we had the opportunity to stay on the new location of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Almost every day we had the chance to spend some time with the sweet rescued creatures. There were cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, guinea hens, and ducks. I had never been to a sanctuary before, and it was deeply beautiful to be able to pet — or even snuggle up with — the animals that I am dedicating my life to saving. Several of us even got to volunteer for a bit by cleaning out pens and brushing the goats and sheep!

Reading this account of Amanda’s experience at YEA Camp was so inspiring to us! If you feel the same and you’re 12-17, or you know someone who is and would love YEA Camp, now is the time to get registered! Find out all the dates and details at www.YEACamp.org.

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Teen Environmentalist Shares Her Story Speaking at International Climate Change Conference

When we learned that one of our incredible campers, 15-year-old Avalon Theisen from Tampa, Florida, was going to be attending the international UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, we knew we wanted to hear all about it and share it with our YEA Camp community.

Avalon is an incredible activist. She started an environmental nonprofit organization, Conserve It Forward, when she was just 9 years old(!), she gave a TEDx talk when she was just 12(!), she has spoken about climate change at the White House(!) and won many awards, and was recently featured in this fantastic article from the Unbound Project. In short, Avalon is one of the most dedicated environmentalists we know at any age.

As part of her role with the Green Schools Project as a National Green Student Leadership Council Officer, Avalon attended the “COP21” Climate Change Conference in Paris. We are grateful for her sharing her personal story about her experience. Reading it, we almost feel like we were there! We are so glad that she could advocate on behalf of our planet and speak on behalf of young people at this important event.

A personal narrative by Avalon Theisen

I arrived in Paris on a cold winter day. A nervous excitement bubbled inside me as I stared into the clouds, hidden by the sun. Signs advertising COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, dotted the landscape from the tall buildings near the airport to the city signs on the Champs-Élysées.

With only an hour’s sleep the night before, I was exhausted, and was powered only by my imminent anticipation. Just a few short weeks before, I had been invited by Green Schools to make a video about the importance of youth at COP 21 events. I am a Green Schools National Youth Council Delegate, as well as the founder of a small environmental non-profit organization, Conserve It Forward. Shortly after the videos, Green Schools invited 5 teens to go to Paris. I was so happy to be representing Green Schools and Conserve It Forward at COP21 and related events. I started a GoFundMe page right away, including the video I made and a letter I wrote. Thanks to many very supportive people, I quickly raised enough money for both my expenses and some amazing thank you gifts to give out to donors.

Once we arrived in Paris, we headed to the Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie for the Youth for Climate event, which was organized by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC). Coincidentally, I had sat on the first ever youth panel at the ASTC Annual Conference a year ago.

Upon arriving at the event, I met Jen Kretser, Director of Programs at The Wild Center and the lead organizer of its annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, and Gina Fiorile, an intern at the science center who has been recognized by the White House for her commitment to environmental causes.

Avalon with Jen and Gina

I had met both of these ladies when we were all at a climate event at the White House in February 2015. I was happy to see some familiar faces right from the start. During the evening, we heard from many other young people from across the globe with similar environmental goals. I was happy to hear that teens from India and Finland also supported and included some form of a plant-based diet in their presentations and speeches. I strongly believe that what we eat affects climate change, so this was exciting for me.

Avalon with Frank Niepold

 

 

 

We heard from several science, environmental, and COP21 leaders. Some of them included Walter Staveloz, the Director of International Relations at ASTC; Frank Niepold, Climate Education Coordinator at NOAA; Karuna Singh, Country Director for Earth Day India; Owen Gaffney, Communications Consultant of “Future Earth,” and Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Climatologist and Former Vice-Chair of the International Panel on Climate Change. There were also interviews by Frederic Castel directly from Bourget of people, including Pierre-Henri Guignard, Secretary General for COP21, and Celine Ramestein, Project Manager for COP21. After the event was over, I had the chance to speak with Solene Dengler from CliMates.

The next day was Friday, and, though tired, I was very excited to start our day. We went to Le Bourget where the main conference was being held.

UN Flagpoles

For those without credentials, there was an enormous conference area full of exhibits, booths, activities, media, and so much more. The event was huge, and almost all of the decorations were made of recycled materials. It was amazing how many people were there, how many languages spoken, and how many people and organizations were represented in a single venue.

Some of the booths and organizations we visited were the Climate Reality Project where we met David Ellenberger, the World Wildlife Fund, Youngo, and even an entire section dedicated to agriculture affecting the world. My mother and I raced on stationary bicycles to power common appliances at the WWF booth. I loved this idea of exercise to create the energy we need.

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Avalon with David Ellenberger

Later, I participated in “The Climate Ribbon art installation: a Tree of Life whose leaves are ribbons from around the world” where we wrote messages on ribbons about things we never want to lose due to climate change. Then we tied the ribbons to the tree. I found out later that 2 of my friends from Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA Camp), Ananya Singh and Amanda Houdeschell, had organized a collection of ribbons from their schools in the United States to send over as part of the exhibit. This activity was organized by 350.org and hosted by several other organizations.

Climate ribbon exhibit

 

Our next stop was the Marymount International School, a beautiful school on the outskirts of Paris. Inside an entryway was a theatre, in which waited some of Marymount’s students along with many speakers and guests. A few signs advertised this event as Mini COP21, and I was happy to be included in the lineup of keynote speakers they were hosting over their two-day event.

Avalon and Yoca

 

On day one, we heard from an artist by the name of Asher Jay, who uses her work to illustrate the unethical trade of animal parts. Next was Yoca Arditi-Rocha, the Executive Director of No Planeta B, a woman who had lived in Puerto Rico, the United States, and Peru. She talked about how we must take climate action now, because there is no other option…there is “No Planeta B.”

I woke up on Saturday, excitement rushing through my fingertips. This was the day I would give my presentation. I packed my notes and multiple USB drives meticulously, checking at least 3 times to make sure I had not misplaced them.The sun was shining brilliantly despite the cold, and I practically ran out the hotel doors.

The trip to Marymount International School was short, and the man at the iron gate buzzed us in immediately. Once past security, my mother and I entered the building where the auditorium was. There were students representing a multitude of schools worldwide. Other guests and speakers were present, and as a whole, we all represented many parts of the world.

I was incredibly excited. I was more happily anxious there than in almost any other speech I had ever given. The event started, and there were two presentations before mine. Hearing multiple references to the issue of food choices affecting the environment throughout my time in Paris really gave me hope. This is a new subject for many people, and I want to do what I can to make it common knowledge. It made me feel great to know others are doing the same.

Avalon presenting

At 10:00, I handed a USB drive to the technician, who uploaded my PowerPoint to a laptop. By 10:15, it was my time to talk. Waving happily to my mother, I strode down the shallow steps and made my way to the stage. Two Marymount students introduced me before handing off the microphone. I held it, my palms slightly sticky, and began my speech. I loved the sensation of so many eyes on me, everyone attentively listening, hearing my voice resonate along the walls. I hope to have a link to the video of my presentation soon at the Conserve It Forward YouTube channel.

Food slide

I talked briefly about how I got started with environmental work at age 8, then described what I love most about our beautiful, “common home” (the theme of the day), all things that people could relate to and that are found all over the globe. I spoke of ways that people could get involved and help in their everyday lives, and spent a lot of time talking about the importance of our food choices on the environment. Food choices are a great, simple way to help our world and all living things. Every time we eat, we have the chance to make change for the entire planet by using fewer resources; that means eating more plant-based foods and less animal-based foods.

I led everyone in the Human Frog Chorus, which is an interactive demonstration I created in 2012 to show the power of all of us using our voices together.

My takeaway messages for everyone were:

– Reconnect with nature so that you remember why you love it and want to take care of it

– Together, our small acts equal BIG change

– Think and act with kindness and compassion

– Ordinary people of all ages must feel empowered to make positive change

Avalon with Madison and Rhiannon

My hope is that I left my receptive audience with something they can use at home. I had a great time connecting with people who came to talk with me afterwards. Soon after, the audience split into working groups. I was happy to get to work with some of the other speakers, students and attendees, including students from Peru and Bali.

Our group discussed four problems our local communities and schools faced, and we chose the topic of destruction associated with palm oil. I mentioned Project Orang, a project that was started by two youth, Madison and Rhiannon, with whom I had been part of different programs in the past. A couple of our group members knew about Project Orang already, which was really neat.

Lunch with new and old friends

When the forum came back together, group representatives, including me, took turns speaking about each topic. We had a fun time working and enjoying lunch together.

 

The afternoon brought new speakers, including Kip Anderson, co-director of one of my favorite documentaries, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. For Earth Day 2015, I gave away almost 80 copies of the movie through my organization’s Facebook page, and I had also communicated with Kip over the past many months.

Avalon with Kip Anderson of “Cowspiracy”

His presentation was full of facts, dotted with a few personal opinions. Some of the information was as follows: animal agriculture accounts for 51% of global greenhouse gasses, those who eat entirely plant-based can save up to 18 times the amount of land a typical American consumes, and the agriculture sector is one of the leading causes of deforestation and water pollution. I was thrilled, again, to have someone else talking about this very important topic.

 

Our last stop for the night was a visit to the free, interactive rides along the Champs-Élysées sponsored by IKEA, in honor of COP21.

Ikea exhibit

Their exhibit included playground-like equipment that you could ride to show the power of people to create energy. I thought this was a great way for everyone to take part and have fun.

Sunday was our last full day in Paris. We no longer had any events to attend, and while I was excited to get one full day to experience the culture of the city, it also made me sad. I longed to attend more events, to learn more, to see more, and to meet more people. I found it so inspirational hearing the stories and experiences of other people.

Ice Exhibit

During events of the day, we visited a public square where gigantic blocks of ice had been placed for COP21 to demonstrate global warming and climate change.

We also visited Place de la République, or Republic Square, home of the memorial to those who lost their lives in the November 13 terrorist attacks. Darting through city skateboarders, we found ourselves under a monument, where candles, peace signs, and all kinds of tributes sat. There were still a surprising amount of shoes, left to symbolically represent the demonstrators who were supposed to gather for a march for climate change, but which had been canceled due to the attacks. Looking down at my feet, I spotted two origami peace cranes painted on the ground, and this gave me an idea.

Republic Square

A current personal project of mine is creating 1,000 origami cranes within the course of a single year to bring eternal peace and wellbeing. I felt this was a sign of something meaningful and personal that I could leave as part of the diverse memorial, so I wrote a small message of peace on a scrap piece of paper, signed it on behalf of the organizations I was representing (Green Schools and Conserve It Forward), and folded it into a crane. I studied the items left by caring people from all parts of the world, found just the spot, and placed the crane. I knew I had done my part at this beautiful, solemn memorial.

I was reluctant to leave in the morning. At the airport, statues hung from the ceiling, looking like circles gathering around each other, until the smallest circle hugged the oversized water drop at the center. I cannot help but think of this ripple effect, and how our planet Earth is at the center of all of our combined actions and efforts.

As I reflect on my time in Paris, I realize how much I enjoyed the COP21 events, the people who gathered there to do good for the world, and of course the beauty and history of the host city itself. I loved the way the city smelled of old stone and sweet dew, combined with the modernity of the shops and people. I especially loved Le Bourget and interacting with the other students at the Mini COP event.

 I feel that my journey to Paris and involvement with COP21 were complete successes. I sincerely hope I can take what I learned from this year’s’ experience with me to COP22 in 2016 in Morocco. My goals would include staying longer, having more interactive opportunities, giving more presentations, and having more time to take part in activities that you do not even know about until you are there. Being part of an event like this is emotional. There are parts that remind me of so many challenges we face, yet there are so many more parts that give me hope and happiness for a brighter future. Reflection of all I have seen, felt, and learned is very important.The entire experience has been beautiful, and I look forward to doing it all again.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this entire journey possible. Thank you to Green Schools for inviting me. Thank you to the people and organizations who helped ensure I was part of different events. Thank you to every single person and organization who shared my social media and GoFundMe posts and links. Thank you to those who donated. All of your support means so much to me. Thank you, everyone, for believing in me, and the voice of all youth.

Peace & love,

Avalon

A note from the editor: Avalon is a recent alum of Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, a life-changing camp for world-changing teens. At this week-long summer camp, teens aged 12-17 learn the critical skills needed to develop their passions into activism. Some are already very active, like Avalon was, and others know they want to get started making a difference but need help figuring out how. If you know of a teen who is interested in gaining the skills and knowledge to become a world-changing activist, whether it be environmental activism like Avalon or another form of social change, visit yeacamp.org.

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