Table Of ContentsNext Page

Youth Action for Sustainability

Rachel Cain

Youth Environment Council


  • Young people want and need to be involved
  • Why our involvement is sustainable
  • What we can contribute NOW
  • Importance of mentoring
  • How to achieve successful mentoring
  • Barriers
  • Positive summary
  • Recommendation to attend our workshop

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the saying ‘young people should be seen and not heard’. I’m also adamant you felt a level of frustration if this saying has ever been said to you, because it suggests that adults feel they can speak for young people. It’s telling young people, like myself, that we’re not equal to adults. Young people want to be taken seriously, and have their opinions respected. The needs of every individual must be taken into account to achieve a sustainable future.

As young people, there are many things we are passionate about, the environment is one, and it’s disheartening to perceive that only adults can make a difference.

In some situations, we could be classed as workhorses, who are technically involved, but don’t have a voice. The Student Representative Council in many schools is an example of this, because students never really have a say about what should happen, in terms of their own education. Young people want to be involved. Involved in taking action on issues, that concern us. This can be achieved in many ways, from advisory councils to hands on projects. If young people are involved, as a result we will be more educated, and made aware of the bigger picture.

Therefore it’s vital this happens, because we are going to be tomorrows leaders. If we aren’t experienced in making important decisions…..then we can’t. It makes sense to learn from adults, to avoid making the same mistakes, because we can’t continue living by systems that don’t sustain life.

Unity and teamwork can ensure we have a bright future. It’s important to remember that being involved is more than just training for when we are adults. We deserve to be involved, because we can contribute now. We have extra hands to assist with work, and our ideas are fresh and creative. Our passion and deep commitment are pathways to making positive changes and finding solutions to deal with the problems that continually arise.

The Youth Environment Council’s (YEC) Youth for Environmental Action Workshops, ‘Y4EA’ in short, are an example of how youth can teach youth. Our workshops focus on implementation of the YEC Community Plan. The first day features sessions on presentation and project management skills. On the second day delegates network with environmental experts, who help them to develop their project. These projects have come from the young people’s own interest. In other words, we are helping them to follow their passion to really make a difference to the environment. Through participation at a Y4EA Workshop, young people are assisted to start their own project, and have developed the leadership, project management and team work skills, needed for sustainability. I believe our workshops generate enthusiasm and energy, which has a ripple effect, encouraging others to be involved. This demonstrates that, as well as taking action, young people can motivate others and create awareness….not just amongst our peers, but adults as well. In addition to implementing projects, young people are capable of being involved at all levels of decision making. It seems logical that we should have an influence on decisions that will ultimately affect us. Through working with the Executive of the Department for Environment and Heritage, the YEC has been told that, as a result of our contributions, the profile of environmental education has been raised within the Department.

Now at the moment you might be thinking to yourself, ‘okay, we’ve established that young people want and need to be involved, but how can we get it happening in schools and the broader community?’ You might also be wondering if young people really do have the capacity to contribute the things that I mentioned earlier.

This brings me to my next point, which is mentoring. Above all, guidance is the key to successful participation, because no one can step into a role if they haven’t had training for it. Effective mentoring involves engaging interest, nurturing ideas and providing support. I would like to share a story with you. Emma Porter on the YEC has started a recycling program in her school, and was also the ‘National Champion for the Environment in 2001’. She faced many challenges when trying to kick start the program in her school, and might have given up without the support of Malcom Axford from Sommerton Park Rotary Club. He in turn was motivated by Emma. This shows that mentoring is not one sided. A person can be a mentor to another, while also being mentored themselves. This is why young people and adults, can, and should work together because there are mutual benefits. All of us, regardless of our age, are continually learning, developing, and building on our capacity to respond to situations. Working partnerships and teams that encompass a variety of ages, pave the way for this to happen.

Mentoring, however, is not just about engaging young people in what you would like to do. It’s important that you discover what they would like to do as well, and from there, try to facilitate this interest. This will maintain commitment, because there is a shared passion.

If young people are also involved at all stages of a project, from having a vision, right through to monitoring and evaluation, it weaves in a sense of ownership. This ownership is proof that our contributions are valued. It also reinforces that we are valued as people, and considered equal.

When I joined my school’s stage band, I was told I should work hard, not only to improve my own instrumental abilities, but the band as a whole. Empowering young people follows the same principle. It means we will be more informed, which will lead to better individuals and a better society on the whole. As a result, society’s expectations will heighten, and allow for social cohesion and progression. Therefore standards can’t be rigid. They must be flexible. People must be willing to ‘think outside the square’ and away from narrow mindedness. Youth are sometimes pressured to conform, but with our unconstrained and vibrant ideas, we can prompt people to leave their ‘comfort zone’.

On the YEC, we realise there are barriers, which can potentially block the way for good working relations between young people and adults. Some examples of this include the stereotype that most young people are substance abusers or Nintendo and TV addicts. Young people can also stereotype themselves, by thinking they belong to a certain group and therefore, can’t step outside of their boundaries. Sometimes young people restrict themselves, because they are afraid of being harshly judged by peers. Sadly, a large proportion of young people don’t want to be involved either. Our solution is to lead by demonstration, while keeping in mind that we all have different values. This means our steps for action need to be designed in different ways, to ensure they appeal to everyone.

We need to bridge the gaps while maintaining diversity. There is no one way to reach these outcomes, but there are common objectives that have a presence in all options. It’s important we develop a culture, where before anything else, we think ‘sustainable’ first. Our children’s children are dependent on it.

In closing, I would like to share with you a simple concept called heart, head and hand. It taught me that when you have a passion, you need to use your head, and from there it is possible to take hands on action. To conclude I would like to recommend that you come to our workshop this morning. We really believe in what we’re doing and hope you do too.

About the author

Rachel Cain is a Year 11 student at Modbury High School. Rachel joined the YEC in 1998 and quickly became an active member in the Council’s ventures. Rachel has been part of the YEC executive since 1999 and is the Immediate Past President. Rachel has been a key contributor in developing the Council’s ‘Community Plan’, ‘Youth for Environmental Action Workshops’, ‘Youth Action for Sustainability’, surveying young people of their environmental perspectives, various performances and presentations.

Top Of PageNext Page