Children and climate change: youth ambassadors and agents of change
Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) recently took to the hills in the North of Thailand to work in collaboration with Plan International, an NGO that aims “to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty.” Plan’s Child Centered Climate Change Adaptation (4CA) project is promoting the role of children and youth in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation activities in communities in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Lessons learned from the BCR project about assessing the vulnerability of communities are being applied to vulnerable hill-tribe communities in the North.
“Climate-related disasters often have disproportionate impacts on children, with serious implications for their rights to protection, health and survival as well as education and participation. However, rather than just being passive victims, children can learn how to protect themselves and become powerful agents of change in their community for risk reduction and resilience. In 20, 30, and 50 years' time, it will be these children and their own families who will be affected by climate change the most. By supporting children now to explore the issue of climate change, they will be better placed to face the challenge in the future,” said Caroline Borchard, Plan’s Climate Change Adaptation Project Coordinator in Asia.
The context in these Northern hill-tribe communities is obviously quite different to that in the Eastern coastal communities of the BCR project. The communities comprise a combination of Akha, Lahu and Dara-ang peoples, with up to five different languages and very little Thai being spoken in some villages. Many of the communities are very remote, requiring up to a three hour drive from the nearest provincial town over very difficult roads.
However, there are some similarities with the coastal communities of the East. These Northern communities are also heavily resource-dependent, and livelihoods here have also changed as a result of development pressures – the establishment of protected areas and an increasing need for monetary income have moved communities away from indigenous techniques like rotational cropping towards mono cropping of corn, tea, coffee and, increasingly, rubber.
Their heavy resource dependence and the impact of development pressures makes these communities highly susceptible to climate change, and the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) methodology developed under the BCR project, which analyzes and assesses livelihoods, natural resource management, land use and infrastructure, has proved effective in helping to identify the communities’ core vulnerabilities.
SDF has also begun working with children and youth in the BCR project target site of Mai Root Sub-district, Trat Province. Empowering the younger generation to take action and help their communities adapt to climate change is seen as strategically important to the overall success of the project in the long term.
“Children and youth can play two important roles. Firstly, they can act as ambassadors within their communities, helping to spread the word about climate change, its impacts, and what can be done to adapt. Secondly, they can act as agents of change, kicking off activities that will help to reduce the vulnerability of their communities, such as hazard mapping, garbage management or the rehabilitation of natural resources” explained Jonathan Shott, Project Manager and Disaster Management Consultant at SDF.
The role that children and youth can play was highlighted in SDF’s recent work with Klong Manao School in Trat Province, part of a nationwide short film competition for schoolchildren, hosted by local Educational Service Area Offices all across Thailand. The theme of this year’s competition is 'Conserving the Environment to Stop the Earth Getting Too Hot.'
“Stimulating interest and raising awareness amongst the schoolchildren and other youths regarding environmental conservation is very important, and we will continue to organize activities regularly and continuously”, declared Kanchaporn Parnphet, Principal at Klong Manao School.
SDF organized a workshop at the school where training was provided on the role of media, filmmaking, editing and climate change adaptation. Some 80 students between the ages of 6 and 12 attended the workshop. This was followed several days later by a mangrove planting exercise – not only a great example of how children and youths can act as agents of change, but also an opportunity for the schoolchildren to capture some important footage to use in the making of their short film!
- Child Centered Climate Change Adaptation (4CA) is a three-year project implemented in Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam from 2011-2014 with funding support from AusAID. It aims to build the awareness of children and their communities about climate change and to empower them to be active participants in adaptation efforts. This involves the translation of relatively new and complex climate science concepts into real life practice using the tools, techniques and knowledge of local communities.
- SDF in Thailand has recently been focusing on initiatives which work to empower some of the groups most vulnerable to climate change: women, children and laborers in the fishery sector. These initiatives are seeking to reduce the vulnerability and increase the resilience of such groups, whilst empowering them to take action to adapt to climate change – all through collaboration with a range of other organizations and agencies.
For more information, please contact:
Project Manager and Disaster Management Consultant
Sustainable Development Foundation
Climate Change Adaptation Project Coordinator in Asia