Every August 12th we celebrate International Youth Day. This special day was endorsed in 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly as a time to commemorate and uplift the voices of the younger generation, and celebrate their contributions of activism in society.
In 2021, the theme for International Youth Day is “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, which will focus on the importance of the role that youth play in the global efforts of transforming local food systems.
In honour of this day and important theme, we’re showcasing some of the dedicated and brilliant youth in our partner communities who are working every day to improve their local food systems to increase food security and preserve the environment.
For 14-year-old Sharai in Bolivia, her community is her passion. “I want to assist, support and advise the community and [help provide] its necessities,” she said. When she first heard about the youth group at the local community centre (run by CFTC partner SCSJ), she knew that it was a chance to put her passion into action. Today, she and her peers are budding community organizers, and have already made a big difference in community life.
One of the ways that Sharai and her friends support their town is by helping out in the community garden, growing fresh produce to eat and sell. In peri-urban Bolivian communities like hers, this is an important step towards food security. Around 20 per cent of the Bolivian population lives with hunger or undernutrition, and almost one third of Bolivians living in rural areas cannot afford the cost of a basic food basket.
The community garden allows families in her neighbourhood to have access to a variety of healthy foods, improving nutrition and giving families an extra stream of income in the market. Sharai has seen the positive effects of urban gardening in her own family. When COVID-19 hit and many Bolivians faced severe food security as a result, Sharai’s family were able to eat well despite her father’s job loss thanks to their garden.
“We have enough healthy food to eat, and now we have our own family garden to produce our veggies,” she told us. In addition to food security, Sharai tackles many other inequities that her friends and neighbours face - like the lack of streetlights. In her view, partnership with others is the key.
Her group decided to address the long-standing safety concern of unlit streets in their town. Rapid urbanization in Bolivia has left many communities without adequate public infrastructure to service the population.
In one of their biggest successes to date, Sharai and her friends joined with other youth to petition local authorities for more streetlights - and received them. Sharai is hopeful that the group can build on this success to push for safer, more inclusive public spaces. At 14 years old, she’s just getting started.
kiana, Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, canada
With schools being closed for the better part of this year, students who relied on daily school meals have had meals supplemented with produce from their community garden to help make sure they have enough healthy food to eat.
Kiana, a university student from Esgenoôpetitj First Nation in New Brunswick recognized the importance of community gardens as an affordable food option, and crucial for Indigenous food sovereignty. Saddened by the school closures, she and another volunteer took on the task of tending to the garden over the summer to distribute plants to the students at home.
"Due to COVID-19 restrictions, youth are not able to take part in helping plant and other garden work in the community garden. Instead, I'm doing it on behalf of them so when it's time to harvest, I will bring them mature plants for them to care for at home,” Kiana told us on the importance of the garden during the pandemic.
Many Indigenous communities like Kiana's rely on gardens to provide fresh food while helping to supplement the meals children would have received at school. Gardens also help further Indigenous sovereignty since youth learn how to grow their own food while connecting to the land.
“I feel inspired by all of the children, because they are putting their trust in me,” she says. “I want to do this to show the youth so they can do it on their own in the future. Everyone should be able to grow their own food.”
Eddy in Bolivia has been an advocate for food security in his community since he was a child. Enrolled in the after-school centre run by our Bolivian partner SCSJ, he learned from a young age the importance of good nutrition and healthy eating. After school, he would go to the centre and receive daily healthy meals and learn the importance of growing your own food.
As part of programming in the after-school centre, Eddy learned how to grow and cultivate a garden, pest control, and how to cook with this fresh produce. When he got older, Eddy became part of the local youth group advocating for food security and started teaching what he learned about garden management to younger generations.
At 18-years-old and a high school graduate with honours, Eddy’s childhood in the garden has informed his entire career in university. “Thanks to the centre growing up, I learned a lot about plants and it has led me into a career in agronomic engineering. I loved growing food a lot as a child, and when I become a professional, I want to help families in need, like my family was helped before,” Eddy told us.
Eddy’s love of food security has inspired children in younger generations to follow in his footsteps. In fact, his younger brother attends the same after-school programming and is developing his own love for the garden.
Thanks to our local partners, supporters and donors, youth around the world like Sharai, Kiana and Eddy can participate in revitalizing their communities and ensuring that everyone has access to safe, nutritious and affordable food. Support like this has helped create a new generation of innovators, thinkers, and changemakers to create a better and healthier future for all.