Today is International Youth Day and it is one of my favourite days of the year. It’s a day to celebrate the actions young people have taken to care for the world around us and be the changemakers we need.
I started my journey of activism when I was 9 years old. My parents and I went to a digital media conference and I went to this blogging workshop and like any other 9-year-old, I thought, “Hey, why not start a blog?” My parents and I came to the conclusion that I had to write about something I was passionate about. The only thing I knew I was passionate about was animals and as I learned about how animal habitats and their lives were at risk due to environmental issues; I was devastated.
However, I quickly turned that devastation into motivation and thought that if I shared what I was doing to take action through writing and photos, others would be inspired to join me. I wanted to do something and my spark was ignited. I started my activism and continue it today in hopes that people can see what I’m doing and think, “If she can do it, I can do it too.” The one thing that constantly reignites my spark is knowing that the world is in safe hands with youth and the many incredible people, organizations and brands that uplift our actions.
The pressure to “change the world” can be daunting. But changing the world can start with your world. It could be your home, your school, your neighbourhood, your community, your city. I’m talking about the places that matter to you. Through your actions, you can ignite a spark in other people and inspire them to do the same. There are real opportunities to create change exactly where you are.
What you can do right now.
The opportunities to take action are all around you - here are four key pieces of advice for younger generations:
- Know you can make a difference. We all have the power, capacity, and responsibility to leave the world better than we first found it.
- Learn from champions creating change that can uplift you. Be a champion in your own right — the best ones are those that support other champions.
- Community is so important. Ask the people around you and your champions for help. You are not alone. What is a champion? Keep reading on.
- Whatever you do, know that it all adds up and the important thing is that you are taking action and inspiring others along the way, creating a ripple effect of solutions and change.
Our generation has the power to change the future of our planet and help carry that change forward for future generations. You’re never too young, too old, too busy, or too cool. And it’s not because you’re not able, wealthy, knowledgeable, or popular. Don’t let excuses hold you back from making a difference.
Champions can guide a young changemaker on their journey.
Youth can be the voices of change but need champions in their corner to help them find their voice, and confidence. Through my activism and by teaming up with 3M, I understand there is a clear distinction between role models and champions. While role models are people we look up to, champions stand with us. Champions defend, support, and uplift. Champions don’t just show a path someone can take - they help make the journey possible and support them all the way through.
I am a huge advocate of this idea of champions because I think about the time when I found my first role model who became my champion – Severn Suzuki. One night my mom called me downstairs to watch a video that she saw online. There was this campaign to empower young girls called “Women that should be famous.” One of those women was Severn Suzuki. I watched it again and again – there she was, a 12-year-old girl who cared about the environment so much that she travelled to Brazil to be part of a UN conference. While she was there, she had 5 minutes that changed her life and it was, I believe, a turning point.
Although that speech was in 1992, I became inspired as a young person and a young girl by her voice. I asked my mom, “Do you think I can do that one day? Do you think I can speak and people will listen?” She said, “Hannah, I think you can. Keep learning, keep writing. When you have something to say, speak and people will listen.” My parents have always been my biggest champions. I have always said change starts at home and this is the same with champions – they are often the people that start at home whether it’s your parents, your teachers, your coaches, and more.
Seeing other people, particularly youth taking action, I was inspired to continue on my path. All the incredible youth I’ve met are all taking action on different issues in different ways. I’ve met youth who are building apps to help people be more environmentally conscious, flashlights powered by the heat of your hand to help people in developing communities, writing code, and animating for shows that raise awareness about environmental causes, and more.
Did you know Pink Shirt Day was created by a student in a high school in Nova Scotia that simply wanted to help a boy being bullied for wearing a pink shirt? Whatever your issue is, go out and do it. There are people out there that will support and champion you.
Why we need youth activism - from a Canadian perspective.
There are so many issues that can benefit from youth activism. With trust in science on the rise and the belief that science can help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges — we all have a role to play to take real action in Canada. There are so many areas and issues that can benefit from youth activism right here at home.
For example: equitable access to STEM education and giving girls and underrepresented minority groups a seat at the table; truth and reconciliation with Indigenous communities; mental health, self-esteem, and body image - these are things in Canada that we can and need to take action on. Never forget your voice is the most important power you have. Whether that’s speaking with people face to face or sharing positive content or issues that matter to you on social media to raise awareness — we all have a voice and we need to use it.
We are living in an amazing time, and I truly believe that it is our time. We are no longer living in a world where young people are seen and not heard. There are examples every day of young people taking action, speaking up, being heard and creating change.
I want to leave you today with this quote that inspires me on my path:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead
Hannah’s blog is part of a paid sponsorship agreement with 3M Canada.