Protect Your Playground
I want to share a story with you that truly shaped my life. It starts back in elementary school.
When I was young, and I remember our school had the coolest playground. There was a jungle gym, 8 swings, red monkey bars, a giant sand box, and big orange slides. There was a hill where we would go tobogganing in the winters and roll down in the summers; a huge field where we played games during recess; and big trees which were perfect for hide and go seek. From working in our school garden, to being excited by the rabbits and other creatures that would visit the field, I have so many incredible memories of my playground.
It was truly a childhood paradise.
One day, when I was in high school, I went back to visit my old elementary school.
I was shocked to find out my playground was gone. The secretary in the office told me that the school field had become littered with plastic, garbage and broken glass, and this wasn’t safe for the kids. So they paved over it to cover up the grass.
This experience really hit home for me. Kids couldn’t play where I used to play, or have the fond memories I have.
Losing my childhood playground taught me that the environment is not something outside the window or outside of me. It is a part of who I am.
This experience inspired me to become involved in, and eventually become the president of my high school environment club. It inspired me to go to law school and become interested in environmental law. And more recently, it inspired me to live out a childhood dream and work for the David Suzuki Foundation.
Some of you out there might be considering whether or not you can make a difference in your community. I know how difficult this decision can be. After all, it is tough work and the path is not always easy. Sometimes your family or friends didn’t understand you or believe in you, and sometimes, you question whether it’s worth it.
I’m here to tell you that it is totally worth it.
In 2006, I was working for an NGO in the Himalayas of northern India and I met a young boy who showed me that it is worth it.
As part of my job, I would go around to the neighbouring villages to speak with adults to see how things were going. One day, a 15 year old boy named Mohan joined me on a walk to a village. He told me he wanted to help improve his village.
He told me that children were dying because of a lack of clean water, farmers’ crops were being destroyed by land slides, and the land his ancestors had preserved for so long was becoming polluted with garbage.
His idea to resolve things was to get all the young people together from all the neighbouring villages to speak about the problems and come up with solutions.
This had never been considered before by the NGO.
Together, these young people collected rain water and put it through a natural filtration process to make sure it was safe to drink. Together, they helped farmers build walls to protect their crops from mud slides. Together, they cleaned up the garbage in their villages.
Today, the young people continue to be leaders for positive social change in their community, and Mohan works for the NGO to lead the youth programs.
The young people I met in the Himalayas are incredibly inspiring. They are protecting their villages for the health and survival of their people, and for future generations to come.
They are protecting their playground.
So whether it is your home, your school, your neighbourhood, or anything else in the environment around you, I encourage you to look around, think about what needs to be done and then go out and do it.
What do you love about your environment and are not willing to lose? What difference would you make if you knew you could not fail?
Sometimes all it takes is one bold idea, one courageous leader, and one group of people to make a difference. And remember, when we all take are of our playgrounds, we take care of the larger playground we are all part of – the world.