FARM’s Vegan Support Analyst, Monica, has spent her last two summers as a counselor at Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, advising and motivating tomorrow’s activists. Today on the blog, Monica shares with us why this is an important endeavor and how we can all support young changemakers.
Many of us share a vision of a world where animals are free to live a life free of exploitation and violence. This vision has led many of us to our activism. Perhaps you leaflet at busy shopping malls on your weekends, volunteer at pay-per-view events when the 10 Billion Lives Tour comes through your town, or organize all vegan community meals for Compassionate Holidays. Whatever your approach, our shared bottom line is a collective understanding that if we want things to change, we need to engage in effective campaigns and tactics to transform our world into one that offers justice for all. When I consider all that is at stake, the billions of animals each year who lead miserable lives before a painful slaughter, the devastation of the environment, and the more than 800 million people that will go hungry each night due to poor resource use, it’s easy to get caught up wondering what is the most effective way to combat all the consequences of animal agribusiness.
There’s only so much we can do as one person, but by inspiring others to do the same, we can maximize our efforts significantly. One of the best ways to expand our reach as activists is by empowering the next generation of change makers, our youth. Not only do youth have a great capacity to incite change in our world, but they will also be the ones responsible for it once we are gone. While we may be planting seeds of compassion for all the people we reach, youth have a lifetime of activism ahead of them. It is our responsibility to support them in their journey. We can reassure them in this process by encouraging them to develop their own ideas and to recognize the power of their voices. While one teen might be ready to speak out on the environmental impact of animal agribusiness to their peers or start an animal rights school club, another may produce a video or piece of visual art to raise awareness about the treatment of animals on farms, while another might make bracelets to fundraise for their favorite farmed animal sanctuary. Celebrating each action our youth take fosters a sense of purpose and membership to a meaningful movement.
I often think of the ways in which we empower our youth to take action is rather similar to how we inspire people to go vegan. We provide them with the knowledge or reasons they may consider such a choice and arm them with the skills or the steps to transition; we build their confidence or assurance in their ability to achieve and we introduce them to a community of like-minded people that are invested in their success. Each summer I have the privilege to work with world-changing teens at a life-changing camp called Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp and it is these four areas that our curriculum is built on: knowledge, skills, confidence, and community. Many people need to develop greater self-confidence to speak up about issues of importance to them, as well as a sense of community to feel supported. But with these as a foundation, change-makers need knowledge and skills to make a difference too. For many of the campers, it is their first time feeling a sense of belonging within a community, building ties of camaraderie with their like-minded peers, and learning from the guidance and mentorship of the staff. With our participatory curriculum and a safe and encouraging space, each camper – and even staff member – leave with a renewed sense of confidence.
Within my activism, I often ask myself what is the most effective use of my time and energy. Without a doubt, empowering the next generation of activists has always proven to be a fruitful investment of my time. An investment that I am able to witness in the days and months (and eventually years) after camp as I witness and hear stories from our alumni leafleting with “Have We Been Lied To?” brochures, working to get Meatless Mondays and more vegan options in their school cafeterias, organizing and attending protests against SeaWorld and Ringling Brothers Circus, and holding screenings of “Cowspiracy”, just to name a few. I have the joy to witness how YEA Camp provides the foundation of their activist careers, a lifetime of rejecting apathy and living a life with eyes wide open to the pains of the world, fighting passionately to heal them.
While traveling with the 10 Billion Lives tour in the spring of 2013, my tour operator and I attended an activist empowerment conference in Southern California. During the opening plenary, the woman responsible for organizing the rejuvenating conference instructed those in attendance to “thank the people who inspired them to become agents of change.” If we all contemplate on this request, I’m sure we’ll shed light onto a lineage of world-shakers that inspired you, whether that be your mother who always encouraged you to be yourself or a basketball coach that always challenged you to strive harder. For me, it was my educators; teachers, advisers, and of course the remarkable counselors at youth empowerment camps I attended myself as a teen that armed me with the skills and assurance to dedicate myself to a life of working for a kinder, more compassionate world. My work as an educator is merely a process of paying it forward by facilitating similar life changing experiences for others.
How are you inspiring the youth in your life? Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re likely a role model to many future leaders and activists. How will you help shape their future actions?