Celebrating International Youth Day

To celebrate International Youth Day on August 12, the Nelson Environment Centre takes a look at young people in the region who are doing big things for the environment.

We have reached the point where action must be taken on the big environmental issues that scientists have been telling us about for decades The people who will be most affected by the present inaction are those that are only just learning about these issues - our children and grandchildren. So it is no surprise that students and youth around the world are starting to advocate for change.

Local students are joining this movement and one of the ways they do this is through the Enviroschools Programme. This homegrown, national programme uses an action learning approach designed to support the community to connect with their place, to investigate the issues relevant to them and design solutions together. We are proud that the majority of the schools in Nelson and Tasman are participating Enviroschools,

Many Nelsonians will remember the student protest for climate action on March 15, when Josephine Ripley and Emma Edwards of the Nelson College for Girls (NCG) Enviro Action Group helped to organise Nelson student’s participation in Schools 4 Climate action, the global youth environmental movement begun by Swedish student climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The NCG group has been going for 15 years, and this year saw a record 90 students sign up. Head of Social Sciences at the NCG, Jennifer Thomas, has seen a rise in concern for the environment in her students result in an equal growth in action. “I have noticed over the years a growing concern and awareness by the students for their environment. The girls are truly passionate and have got involved in many local and national initiatives. This year they were awarded the Kaitiakitanga Eelco Boswiljk Civic Award for raising awareness and caring for our local environment.” says Thomas.

Also from Nelson College for Girls, Year 9 Student Sophie Weenink organised the Clean Up Tahunanui Beach event to coincide with Plastic Free July. “I supported the protest and was inspired by it, and I thought people always talk about plastic in the ocean but don’t do anything about it. I wanted to do something really useful, and also raise awareness of the issue.” On the day, 200 volunteers collected over 200kgs of rubbish from the foreshore at Tahunanui Beach in under two hours. Check out Sophie’s facebook page Ecogirl NZ for details of her next clean-up project and tree planting in fire damaged areas.

Sophie recently worked with Enviroschools facilitator Heather Graham and Ben Knight from Sustainable Coastlines to collect rubbish at Monaco and Glenduan. Nelson Intermediate School students volunteered to weigh and record the material and input it to the Sustainable Coastlines database. The Nelson Intermediate School Enviro Group has over 60 students, who have completed many projects such as school waste and power audits, making zero-waste snacks and beeswax wraps, bird feeders and vegetable gardens.

Even the youngest members of our community are making a difference. At Hampden Street School, students have built birdhouses, worm farms, bike racks from recycled pallets and weta hotels; made their popular school gala 'waste-free'; planted vegetable gardens; pushed for 'active travel' signage around the school and much more. Facilitated by dedicated teacher Simon Ashby, students are now investigating getting bees and chickens in the future. For Ashby, the programme has many positives: “Enviroschools is a brilliant way for children to be interested in and show leadership in caring for their school and their planet. It's an empowering way for the whole school community to take action that can lead to the betterment of our Kura and Nelson. It's hands on and mucky. Enviro schools are about creating memories that 'stick' for the learner.”

There are plenty of opportunities for local youth to engage with sustainability outside of school as well. 16 year old Young Labour leader and NCG student 16 year old Vienna Van Heeswyck recently started an online petition to improve public transport in Nelson Tasman, stating “Climate change is one of the biggest issues that concerns my friends and I…..I don’t drive for this reason, and I rely on public transport to get around. [But] The bus system if failing me.” You can sign Vienna’s petition at

If you have a young person in your life who has an interest in the environment, local bookshop Volume is hosting a special book club meetup for 9-13 year olds on August 29th. They will be discussing the book version of Greta Thunberg’s speeches, the title of which perfectly sums up this article: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference See www.volume.nz for details.

Holly Cole