Guest Post by Kerstin Forsberg2010 YouthActionNet® Fellow Kerstin Forsberg is Co-founder and Director of Planeta Océano, which works to conserve and restore coastal and marine environments, with a special focus on Peru. In 2012, Planeta Océano received a Starbucks Youth Action Grant through YouthActionNet to empower young environmental entrepreneurs to carry out their own projects. Below, Kerstin describes an ambitious effort to train, support, and connect an emerging generation of environmental change-makers in Peru.
I’d worked with hundreds of volunteers before, who had supported the research and education activities of our marine conservation organization, Planeta Océano. Yet in 2012, with a Starbucks Youth Action Grant, I decided to go a step further: What if, instead of including young people in our initiatives, we’d promote them to develop their own efforts? With this idea in mind, we trained over 100 motivated youth in marine conservation and project management.
In theory this sounded great; yet I was naïve to think it would be easy. Our young entrepreneurs carried out seven forums and over 350 surveys in 8 different communities—but it wasn’t easy. Arranging schedules with these full-time university students, coordinating efforts between them, and pretending that all groups could advance at the same pace were just some of the difficult limitations we encountered.
New participants came in needing training, while personal barriers made others drop out along the way. It took more time than expected for youth project implementation to start. We were managing a dynamic system almost as complex as the marine systems we wanted to conserve.
However—youth passion, will, and perseverance always seem to win. Facebook groups proved to be a great tool for coordination. Our team’s monthly meetings with groups reinforced monitoring, and continuous training on topics selected by youth themselves was extremely motivating.
Thirteen complete project proposals have already been developed for over 10 communities. Projects range from environmental education to research on environmental services, from revaluing local reed boats to assessing local fish and ray consumption. The proposal development enabled youth to express their entrepreneurial spirit, while contributing to their professional development.
Some projects are already being implemented and our team’s follow-up work (as opposed to direct organization of activities) is stronger than ever. I recently visited two project sites, Puerto Morin and Santiago de Cao. My mission: go to the field with the youth, assist them in their projects, and give input. It was a great feeling to be a volunteer of our volunteers. I met the community they’d been working with, saw the affection of the kids that greeted them, and noticed the multiplier effect we’re achieving throughout this incubator project.
We’re now planning to connect and strengthen our network of young people, and we’re dreaming of organizing a get-together of Peruvian Young Marine Conservationists!
I was once told that volunteering should resemble a ladder where volunteers start helping out in your activities and slowly climb their way up, to later develop their own projects. Here, we tried having our new volunteers jump directly to the top of the ladder, directly showcasing their potential as changemakers and project leaders. It’s been risky, perhaps unreasonable for many—definitely hard, but absolutely gratifying along the way.
Learn more about the work Kirsten is doing with her Starbucks Youth Action Grant in the video below.
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