Iva from Young Friends of the Earth Croatia reflects on her experiences in Durban, at the first African meeting as part of a project between Young Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth Africa and Friends of the Earth international.

Never in my life did I think I would ever end up so far away from home.

Yet somehow I was off to Durban, South Africa, to participate in the first Young Friends of the Earth Europe/Friends of the Earth Africa cross-regional meeting of youth engaged in climate justice issues.

So what’s it all about? Well, to fully understand what I’m talking about, I should start from the very beginning.

If I wanted to introduce Friends of the Earth to a total stranger I would say it’s a grassroots network with member groups from all over the world, who share a common desire for social transformation to create sustainable, gender-just and equitable societies. Our strength lies in solidarity and respect for each other’s values and diversity.

I know you’re all thinking, “Sounds cool! Let’s do it! Now!” But things are, unfortunately, not always that simple.

Across Europe and Africa, there are obstacles to creating such a perfect world. The Friends of the Earth network itself still needs a lot of work in order to achieve age, gender and socio-economic equity. For example, in Young Friends of the Europe we are all volunteers, predominantly female, middle-class students. This one small example demonstrates that not everyone in Europe is included in the environmental movement. We exclude certain social groups from joining the fight for our planet. We are, as a movement, still far from our vision of a perfectly balanced world.

Friends of the Earth International recognized these imbalances and came up with a project putting youth at the forefront of change, with the aim of building a more inclusive environmental justice movement. The project also creates space for youth to discuss and develop the crossover between environmental justice and other social justice issues including gender, age, race, ethnicity and class. In short it creates a platform in which youth can develop their own vision of a different world and start to make it happen.

During this first cross-regional meeting in Durban, I experienced just a tiny fraction of how unjust our current world can be. I saw the notorious South Durban Cancer Valley where most of the youngest inhabitants suffer from asthma, cancer or Leukemia because the companies responsible don’t care about pollution. I visited local markets where people sell anything just to survive another day. Those markets are the only thing providing a roof over their heads. People have nowhere else to go, to escape the pollution.

I have seen injustice. I have felt powerless. And I want to see change.

I believe the Friends of the Earth exchange project has the potential to bring about this change.

I spoke to many inspiring people in Durban. I believe together we can find creative ways of fighting the system. During the meeting we talked about the events in both Europe and Africa’s past that shaped our present. We worked together to better understand each other and identified the roles that youth can play in addressing environmental injustices around the world.

Each European country was paired with an African counterpart working on similar environmental justice topics, such as coal, monoculture plantations, land grabbing and fracking, so we can develop concrete cross-regional campaigns to test the tools and methods for engaging young women and men from different backgrounds more effectively.

The results? The project is still ongoing, but I have a good feeling some pretty amazing stuff is going to come out of it. The change is coming, one step at a time. Stay tuned!

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