Educating and Empowering Youth on Climate

Quito, Ecuador

The Global Shapers Community is a network of youth activists taking an active role in shaping the future by driving dialogue and solutions for change. Recently the Quito hub of the community was honored as one of five winners of the Climate and Environment Grant Challenge, initiated through the partnership between Rosamund Zander, The Climate Reality Project, and The World Economic Forum. 

The climate crisis is a serious challenge requiring urgent action to avoid increasingly dire consequences. But members of the Global Shapers Quito Hub including Diana Guevara Duque, José Carlos Aucancela López, and Patricia Proaño Cuenca in Quito, Ecuador, realized that sometimes it takes a light touch to teach a tough subject. 

The Quito Hub of the Global Shapers Community recognized that climate curriculum was missing in many schools. Seeing an opportunity, the activists developed a set of materials that were engaging and entertaining for children. 

While reaching youth was critical, they always understood their audience was in fact much broader, given young people’s ability to influence and teach their elders. 

“Children have the power to implement changes and actions within their families and communities,” noted the program designers. “... Even though the content was for the children, the parents were learning it as well.”

To learn more about climate work in Latin America, check out the Climate Reality Project Latin America.

In Their Own Words

What was the problem you saw?

We looked through the curriculum of the elementary schools and noticed that climate change and environmental education were missing. Our "Children Champions of the Environment" project aims to raise environmental awareness and engagement among children. Learning about climate change at a young age can make such a difference to them and the lives of their families. They retain this information and create a generation with a role in influencing the actions of family members while being educators.  

What was your idea/insight to solve it and the end result/vision you wanted to achieve?

Creating an environmentally conscious community involves bringing in children and their families. Our approach was to make the topics of climate change, the importance of biodiversity (regional setting), water and waste management, and food sovereignty (local produce) entertaining, interactive, and understandable. To achieve this, we developed educational materials with different types of characters that would accompany the children throughout the different classes. We found that using animated videos, games, and booklets created a lot of enthusiasm from both the students and the teachers. Outside the classroom, we provided kits for them to build their garden at home and encouraged the students to talk to their parents and family members about these topics.    

Why is this solution important to your country and community?

Children have the power to implement changes and actions within their families and communities. Although these educational materials are geared towards a younger audience, their parents and siblings would be sitting in on the lessons with them. We are helping to change these conceptions of the importance of climate within the family. They rethink the actions that they take and what changes they can implement. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for households to have their own food; our topics on increasing awareness and knowledge about food production, waste treatment, and urban gardening were well received by community members.

What were the biggest challenges you faced/ran into?

The biggest challenge was the pandemic, as the schools were in the process of navigating hybrid or remote learning. In-person learning and remote learning have different approaches, and our project needed to be available online. Of course, trying to connect directly with the school’s director and engaging the school’s authorities also provided a challenge. We also found it easier to work with schools that were environmentally aware and included environmental education within their syllabus. But we knew it was important for us to implement this information into the regular curriculum.    

Who were the key stakeholders/partners that worked with you?

The main stakeholders were the schools that we worked with as well as the Environmental Secretariat at the municipality here in Quito. They helped provide a list of schools from the city for us to reach out to and work with. The school’s directors and teachers were very involved, as we needed to receive their approval to work with their students. As for the content, it was created with the help of experts who have experience in children’s education. They assisted with developing the games, the booklet, and the short stories. The community was another key stakeholder, and since our project, we have added new members to work on our next project. Every member added to the hub creates new energy with new ideas to implement. They carry the ideas for change and provide activities for the community to take a step forward with this project.

How did you mobilize people to take actions?

We learned how to communicate with children and reach them in a way that they would understand what we were trying to say and use this knowledge not only for their class but for their life. We wanted to see those long-lasting effects, and so by creating content that resonated with them, we were happy to see a lot of involvement and engagement. It was a great experience to see how the teachers encouraged the children to dress up as plants at the graduation ceremony. Seeing the smiles on the kids showed how making these little steps creates a circle of good actions that can be replicated to create an impact on climate change.   

What insight, ideas, or suggestions would you offer someone looking to take action similarly?

Understanding whom you are talking to is the foundation for when you are talking about environmental education projects. The content for adults is not going to be the same for children, it changes the context, the vocabulary, and the approach. We had experts who were familiar with creating short stories, booklets, and children’s education helping to create the content for the online learning courses. It needs to be interactive and engaging, and we even saw that even though the content was for the children, the parents were learning it as well.  

How did this project you created promote equity or justice in your community?

Our hub, and the values of the community, have always been centered around inclusion. It is our objective to integrate this into every project that we set out to do. Mobility provides a challenge in our city as it can take two hours to navigate from one side of the city to the other. This leaves out many communities and schools that are not located in the center of the city or highly populated areas. We wanted to work in schools that are frequently overlooked or with which Shapers have not previously worked.