Power of youth unleashed at Living Lightly, by Aistė Manfredini

When we think of the world’s influential change makers we don’t often think of children.

During the past 20 years, governments and organizations throughout the world have begun to recognize children as citizens in the local and global community, providing them with opportunities to get involved and have their voices heard. In fact, recognizing children as citizens is now a concept in international law.

In 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child included Article 12, which states that all children, anywhere, have the right to be heard and taken seriously. Unfortunately, in 2016, many governments still don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what it means to listen to young people, or have the appropriate measures to follow such legislation.

But youth like Madison Vorva didn’t wait for “grown-ups” to reassure her ability to ignite social change in the global community. Vorva is now a senior public policy analysis major with a concentration in environmental analysis at Pomona College and making big strides in addressing environmental issues worldwide.

Vorva became an environmental activist at the age of 11, which is when she launched an environmental campaign as a Girl Scout.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, Vorva will be the featured speaker at the Living Lightly Fairwhere she will share her experiences as a young leader and environmental activist at 11 a.m. in the Indiana Room at Minnetrista. She will be the youngest featured speaker in the Living Lightly Fair’s 10-year history. The title of her presentation is “Girl Scout Cookies and Conservation.”

Vorva will speak again at 2 p.m. in the Indiana Room. Her topic will be “Change Starts With a Passion” and will be directed at children and teens in elementary, middle school and high school.

“Young people who want to help protect the environment can learn how to change their own dreams into actions with Madi’s help,” said Barb Stedman, who is a co-founder of the Living Lightly Fair.

Shireen Desouza, who is a professor in the Department of Biology at Ball State University, heard Vorva speak at a conference in 2015 and brought her to Ball State in early 2016 to inspire college students.

Desouza said, “Madi is a great role model for youth, especially girls. She is so committed to lend her voice to women and environmental issues. It is a delight to hear her speak, and I would encourage everyone to attend the Living Lightly Fair.”

Vorva’s passionate campaign focused on persuading the national Girl Scouts organization to adopt a deforestation-free palm oil policy for its cookies, because the practice of unsustainable palm oil production leads to deforestation, increased carbon emissions and species endangerment such as damaging the habitat for orangutans.

In February 2014, Kellogg Co., the baker of Girl Scout cookies, announced a global commitment to use “fully traceable palm oil, produced in a manner that’s environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable.”

And who thought an 11-year-old couldn’t shake the world?

Young people here in Indiana also are making outstanding strides in the environmental movement and civic engagement. Take for example Iris O’Donnell, 18, and a member of Youth Power Indiana in Indianapolis, who made an effort to speak with Indiana U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly about climate change, and Maddie Adkins, 17, who started the Promise Project in Carmel, a youth-led effort to work in collaboration with city officials to enact climate change goals such as a resolution or ordinance. Adkins, the former president of Carmel High School’s environmental club, also wrote a step-by-step explanation of what adults need to do to let youth lead. She stresses that mentorship is critical but allowing youth to take ownership of their work is equally important.

When adults give youth a voice by providing them with the tools and opportunities to make a difference in their community, the results are not only impressive but also effective. One group of young people making national headlines for combating climate change is Our Children’s Trust. On April 8, in Eugene, Oregon, a group of 21 people ages 8-19 won a climate lawsuit against the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry. They sued the federal government for “violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by enabling continued exploitation, production and combustion of fossil fuels.”

With the help of mentors and facilitators, the youth activist group took its concerns for climate change and made an effort to take action. Surely, older folks listened.

At this year’s Living Lightly Fair, young people also will have opportunities to get empowered by community members and organizations in Muncie who are passionate about protecting the environment and living lightly. Throughout the day, the fair will include presentations for all, resources for getting involved in the community and hands-on children’s activities such as creating a self-watering plant for the home.


This article, which appeared in the Muncie Star Press on September 11, was written by Aistė Manfredini, a graduate student studying emerging media design and development with a special interest in sustainability in the Ball State University Department of Journalism

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