World change starts with one girl

Megan Van Buskirk at COP17This is the unabridged version of the speech that WAGGGS delegate Megan Van Buskirk presented at a COP17 Side Event hosted by the UN called Climate Change Awareness Raising on 1 December 2011.

My name is Megan Van Buskirk and I am from Canada. I am a youth delegate at COP17 representing the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, or WAGGGS, and I am speaking today on behalf of 10 million girls and young women worldwide.

WAGGGS is the largest voluntary movement dedicated to girls and young women in the world. By bringing us here to COP17, WAGGGS offers us young women a global platform to speak out for our rights and shape our own future. Girl Guiding has definitely changed my life. Who I am today is a result of my Girl Guiding experiences.

WAGGGS is a founding member of YUNGA, the Youth and United Nations Global Alliance. This is a mutual partnership that coordinates efforts to achieve common goals, such as ensuring environmental sustainability.

The importance of non-formal education

Through YUNGA, WAGGGS and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have produced two non-formal education badge curriculums, the Food Security and Climate Change Challenge Badge and the Biodiversity Challenge Badge.

UNESCO defines non-formal education as "programmes that do not necessarily follow the 'ladder' system of formal education systems". We like to think of it as “learning by doing”.

WAGGGS and FAO programmes raise awareness in young people and allow them to become an active part in solving environmental problems through engaging activities and action-oriented projects.

At home, I am a Brownie leader. Last year I completed these two badges with my girls and I noticed how engaged and interested they became in environmental issues. When doing activities from the book, such as the drinking zero bottled water challenge and learning about vermicomposting, my girls were able to put their knowledge of the environment into action. By teaching them about the world around them, we build their capacity to take action on the world’s problems. 

Megan Van Buskirk at COP17One of my fellow COP17 WAGGGS delegates from South Africa has completed the badge curriculums with her Girl Guides. She took her girls to the supermarket and taught them the importance of eating local food. This experience was new to her girls, and they learned a lot.

Becoming more aware of the environment within Girl Guiding is a perfect example of how non-formal education works. It doesn’t matter if the girls live in developed or developing countries, because these are global programmes for global problems.

Overall, more than 20,000 copies of the curriculums have been distributed to people in schools and youth groups worldwide, and they have been downloaded more than 5,000 times from the WAGGGS website. This sounds even more impressive when I tell you the badges are just over a year old.

These badge curriculums are capacity building toolkits. They provide hands-on experience on environmental topics. The girls that get involved with these programs then go on and use this knowledge in other areas of their lives.

Mini-grants trigger change at a grassroots level

WAGGGS, FAO and YUNGA have also collaborated on providing mini-grants to Girl Guides and Girl Scouts working on environmental projects. To date they have supported 13 projects aimed at environmental sustainability.

In Kenya, 30 Girl Guides from the Hawker Market Girls Centre taught girls and young women living in slums and conditions of extreme poverty how to improve food security for themselves and others around them. With the help of a mini-grant, the local Girl Guide unit responded by teaching the affected girls and young women self-subsistence methods, such as making a solar cooker and harvesting rainwater.

As a result of this project, 1,000 girls and young women have been encouraged to grow their own food in a sustainable manner. By providing these women with the skills they need to be self-sufficient, the mini-grant aided in building capacity in these impoverished communities.

This story from Kenya is just one story from one US$250 grant that impacted 1,000 people’s lives. Imagine the global impact when this happens again and again and again. These women have learned new skills and have built capacity. They will go on and teach others the same.

In Madagascar, a Megan Van Buskirkmini-grant allowed a Girl Guide unit to provide training on reforestation to Girl Guiding Leaders. In South Africa, a grant enabled 30 rural girl guides to an attend an environmental camp; and In India, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts planted 450 plants to aid pollution reduction.

It starts with one girl. One project. And the world begins to change.

I am here to make my voice heard

Having witnessed the successes of non-formal education programmes with these badge curriculums, I want to see a larger emphasis on the inclusion of non-formal education in the text of the UNFCCC. I think more improvement can be made in regards to the inclusion of gender and age-sensitivity to climate change education. This is because learning is only one step. It is an important step, but it is also essential to provide long-term solutions. This is why building capacity in communities throughout the world is so essential.

I am here in Durban to make my voice heard. As a Girl Guide I have seen how effective non-formal education programmes can be and how important building capacity in girls and young women is. Through Girl Guiding I have been offered the opportunities to reach my full potential as an active citizen of this world.

At COP17, I am here to ensure that non-formal education and capacity building gets the recognition it needs.

Our voice, the voice of the youth, the voice of girls and young women worldwide, needs to be heard here, in Durban, today.

As girls worldwide say: “Together we can save our planet."

Your comments

Prerana Shakya - 21 December 2011 - 5.28AM (GMT)

Megan, very inspiring speech... Well done...

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