Traveling across this country, and seeing first hand challenges facing children and youth, it is easy on days like today, National Child Day (that is celebrated in Canada on November 20th each year) to use a critical lens and examine the failings of governments, systems and individuals in how we engage, support and care for children and youth. We have listened and heard from our young friends and know that they are real. Yet, at the same time we need to celebrate and honour the successes and moments where young people are feeling valued, heard and reminding that they matter in this world.
This day, recognized by gatherings, activities and we are certain, a whole lot of tweets – can and should be one of reflection on the United Nations’ adoption of two documents centered on children’s rights: the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1959, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989.
A question that will be commonly asked today, (we hope), focuses on what young people’s experiences are like and how are they being heard and where are they sharing their expertise and experience?
So today, we are turning our blog over to our friend, 15-year-old Ava Corbiere, as shares her experience at the recent Bayfield Sustainability Summit, hosted by Blue Bayfield, an organization whose mission is to reduce the use of disposable plastics and prevent plastic and pollutants from entering our Great Lake and waterways.
There are some key learnings from Ava’s sharing and her experience speaks to how allies and organizations – every day, not just on November 20th, can work to ensure safe and respectful spaces exist to ensure young people have the opportunities to be heard on issues that matter to them.
Bayfield Environmental Conference
I recently got the opportunity to attend an environmental conference in Bayfield, Ontario. I had been approached by a close family friend, Liz Panighel, who knew one of the organizers, about it, as I had told Liz beforehand that I was interested in environmental issues. She asked if I was interested in going, but warned that no one my age was likely to be in my company. Despite this prospect, I took her up on the offer; being in an environment where there aren’t many people your age may be a bit of an uncomfortable one, but certainly not one that’s impossible to learn in.
I was pleasantly surprised when Liz informed me that more youth would be in attendance at the conference. Environmental issues are ones that need to be considered now and into the future; it was encouraging to me to know that a group of people my age, who would inevitably be in charge of doing so, would be able to be a part of the conference.
I felt that our group was received with open arms at the conference; the organizers and presenters made it quite clear that it was important to have youth in attendance, because the responsibility of environmental conservation would someday fall to us. They even allowed us to sit in the front row before the stage. I felt very welcomed; everyone was polite and respectful towards us. I appreciated this because I was, at first, a little intimidated at the idea of attending the conference in the first place, and having an atmosphere where we could feel secure and adequately represented really enhanced the experience for me and made me feel comfortable. I was glad to see that this was true for some of the other youth, too; some presented to the conference body about the subjects that their groups had discussed.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to hear from individuals who were highly educated about the damaging effects of global warming, and how we can work to rectify them through forms of sustainable energy. I was even more grateful to be able to feel equal among the adults in attendance as learned together.
We are grateful for Ava sharing her experience and have two strong take reminders from her expereince:
- The role allies play in children and young people’s lives
- How important to ensure young people at adult focused events know that they matter, are important and belong at the gathering.
As we move forward this year our commitment is to continue to be the strongest allies we can to children and youth and never stop reminding them about #the3Things. You Matter. You Are Important. You Belong.
What will you do between now and November 20, 2018 to ensure that every child and youth in Canada knows – and believe these things?
To learn more about Blue Bayfield be sure visit their website at http://bluebayfield.ca/.