John Carl Alonsagay: Building climate change education from the ground up in the Philippines
Editor’s note: John Carl Alonsagay submitted his following personal story to Global Young Voices. You too can submit yours to us here.
I come from a country that has slowly developed for over 121 years; it is composed of almost 7,100+ islands and that number changes with every high and low tide. We experience between 15 and 20 typhoons every year; this is the Philippines.
My advocacy started when I first learnt the words: “Global Warming” in the third grade; today I am still that curious elementary kid with an innocent mind. Encyclopedias would pile up in my room, reading subjects that would later create purpose in my life. Global Warming is the term people use to refer to changes in Earth’s atmospheric condition and temperature due to excessive human pollution. I first sought to understand the role of the ozone layer and how vital it is to our planet.
For a child to imagine if his home will one day become a dystopian world, that was easily my worst nightmare. This is how I felt when I first learned that the sole planet we have will not be habitable in one hundred years if our current climate condition worsens.
Social action will remain a basic concept unless there is a united force to fulfill it; together with my cousins, we launched the Alpha Team Organization or ATO as a peer group, and this went on to become a multi-interest organization. It grew along with members from our class and other schools in my hometown.
Fast forwarding to 2015, I was in the midst of my college life, working to adopt an urban life. I had almost forgotten my elementary and high school days where I participated in tree-planting activities as part of the Philippine government’s National Greening Program (NGP) that aims to plant more than a million trees all over the archipelago.
My attention turned back to environmental advocacy when I heard the news that almost 196 countries had signed the Paris Agreement – aiming for the world to finally get serious about cutting carbon emissions which have damaged our fragile climate system. I then applied for a conference in Manila which was hosted by the Climate Reality Project – a climate change forefront of former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Al Gore.
I was accepted into the conference with my cousin, Crystal Maureen Santillan, who became my most important ally in rebuilding the ATO. It was my first international conference and at first I felt worried if people would take note of my old black shoes and oversized coat. I then met Rubina Karki from Nepal, an environmental student in Kathmandu; she too is a passionate climate activist. We shared one thing in common: we are both from a developing country and determined to fight for climate justice. Weeks after the conference, me, Crystal and Rubina were working to create a new concept of a post-conference project. We thought of something that holds great importance and is often underused: climate change education.
We thought up a way of of getting ATO back on its feet again and mobilizing its resources in a new authentic advocacy. We launched the ClimatEducate Project on April 6, 2016, and opened its social media page on Facebook. I was a novice in graphics designing at the time and later the social media site turned into the primary platform for our new project to grow. In the months that followed, our project expanded in the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zimbabwe and in Brazil. What also amazed me through this process was the unexpected diversity of our young project team; some are climate change activists while others are practicing researchers and educators, graphic artists and even high school students.
Since ATO’s growth, committees have been set up and new positions have been established. I became its first Chief Director. We thought at first that conceptualizing climate change education might be limited to online sources but we overcame this limitation with our first outreach called “Non-Online Initiatives” or NOIs which was launched in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Working with pure volunteerism, our NOIs spread throughout many schools and communities in 11 countries. That’s when we decided to divide our project into three major world regions; South Asia, Africa and South America. An Instructional Framework for our NOIs has been drafted and this has been the basis of how we initiate our activities in these schools. Our activities usually focus on basic climate change science and the contextualization of climate change issues.
We also found out how reflective instruction of climate change worked, that climate change-related catastrophes are real in the eyes of a child in a developing country. I have seen many perspectives and gained new connections working along the project team. We may have conflicts from time to time but we created an atmosphere that worked to address these issues right away.
After months of hard work, our project was given the opportunity to join the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech, Morocco. I was overwhelmed and though I first wanted other deserving project members to get the opportunity, the project team decided to nominate me and I promised to work hard on behalf of the ATO and the project. We were able to raise our project’s exposure and spread in the conference; our vectors are still “foreign” in the established network of young climate activists. I became the young member of the Philippine Delegation to the COP, and with my old PC, I roamed around the conference village, meeting several young negotiators and advocates whom I shared the project with.
In the negotiations, I acted as an observer and was surprised by discussions of policy jargons and climate science. I also came to realize the plight of developing countries’ delegates participating in the conference. I kept hearing people say: “Where will we get money to cut our emissions if we have a million in poverty?”
I came to realize that “climate change education” needed more time and resources; schools we had started initiatives in barely had enough teaching equipment and were crowded with students who were still eager to listen from my fellow project members using our graphics and resources. We needed more of both.
Months passed by after the COP22 and we reached several milestones; ATO was finally registered as a non-profit organization in the Philippines and in Earth Day 2017, our project was awarded the Allen S. Quimpo collective Climate Leadership Award by the Climate Reality Project Philippines which was held at the Philippine Senate.
In August 2017, I finally stepped down as Chief Director of the Project, a bright biology student from Rio de Janeiro, Lorrayne Isidoro Gonçalves, replaced me and in October 2017, we reached 30 schools and communities with almost 2,500 participants across 12 countries, most of them being students.
I kept asking myself how powerful thoughts can be; our project began as merely a thought and went on to become a concept and catalyst for the youth of the developing world. Like our countries, we have no sufficient funds to carry out these climate change initiatives but we overcome this obstacle with thoughts of volunteerism and made up the difference.
I now work as a graphic artist for the project; the ATO is now a highly active organization and its ClimatEducate Project is continuing to work with schools and promising students concerned about the state of our planet.
We are unsure where our project will go and when will it end; could it conclude when our climate becomes stable? After the climate negotiations finally stop? One thing is certain; we will tell the generations after us that we once fought to defend science, for mankind, for our planet, for our home.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV
Photos credit: John Carl Alonsagay