by Maria Archibald, Youth Engagement Volunteer Coordinator
September 6, 2016: Delighted shouts pierce the air as students kick off their shoes and run into the frigid Colorado River. After cooling off, they gather in a circle to enjoy the sun and reflect on the past week. We’ve just finished five days of climate change research on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. As we discuss the value of our work and the importance of protecting the Colorado Plateau from climate change, a condor soars above our heads, as if to express its agreement.
September 24, 2016: Hands plastered with mud and calloused from a battle with invasive thistle, eight high school students set down their tools and begin their final ascent to the top of the hill. Before saying goodbye to the Vermilion Cliffs and the springs we’ve spent a week restoring, we crawl into a patch of willows. As a light breeze rustles the leaves, we give thanks for the shade created by this rare desert jungle. We take pride in our work to protect the water that gives us life.
These students came to the Grand Canyon Trust from two different Flagstaff high schools. Given their similar interests and shared love of the outdoors, they seemed like they’d be natural friends. They didn’t know each other, though. Not yet, at least.
Upon returning home from their respective volunteer trips, the students decided that their contributions to Colorado Plateau conservation need not stop there. Motivated by a shared passion for conservation, they realized they had the potential to make an even greater impact by collaborating with their peers. They were inspired to take the next step…but what exactly was the next step?
“We as young advocates, we have all of this passion and we get really inspired out on these trips, and then we come back and we don’t really know what to do with it,” says high school student Maya Holliday. “We’re kind of like ‘Okay, well I really care about this thing, now how do I actually help that thing in reality?’”
At the beginning of this year, the Grand Canyon Trust launched a new Youth Leadership Program, intended to guide students through this very process. In our mission to foster lifelong advocates for the Colorado Plateau, volunteer trips are just the beginning. To truly accomplish our goal, we must continue offering opportunities, supporting students, and teaching advocacy skills long after a trip’s conclusion.
With support from Youth Leadership Program staff, students from both schools came together to meet, share food, and tell stories. Over dinner, they discussed ideas, and made plans for future collaboration.
A couple months later, they reconvened at the Grand Canyon Trust, ready to take the next step. In order to form an effective environmental campaign, they knew they would need to do more than share their stories and impassion their peers. They needed to learn, practice, and teach tangible advocacy skills with which to act on this passion.
So this spring, 15 high school students gathered at the Trust for youth-led workshops on persuasive writing and public speaking. They learned about the effects of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region, practiced tools for effectively presenting their arguments against it, and wrote and rehearsed speeches with their peers.
“It was really powerful to get a bunch of people in one space and do something meaningful,” says Maya.
The workshop was just the beginning, however. The newfound relationship between students is blossoming into a youth-led movement against uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. They are creating an art piece to depict the dangers of hauling uranium ore across our precious Colorado Plateau landscapes, and they are planning a film screening to raise awareness about the environmental and social detriments of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
“Today, more than ever, we should be working to fight climate change and treat it as the great threat to humanity that it is,” writes Elea Ziegelbaum, local high school senior and dedicated climate advocate.
Elea and her peers refuse to sit on the sidelines and wait for lawmakers to take action. Instead, these passionate young people are leading the way to a safer environment and a more just future.
Our young people are fired up. They are passionate, engaged, and ready to mobilize. If these are the people inheriting this earth, then I see reason for hope. They are scientists, writers, speakers, and artists, and they are creating an interdisciplinary movement for a safe environment.
Flagstaff’s young people are courageously stepping up to the task of working toward environmental justice on the plateau, and the Grand Canyon Trust’s Youth Leadership Program is committed to supporting them.