Young advocate from the Philippines goes a long way to educate about climate change
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 121 years old developing country. It is composed of almost 7.100+ islands and the number changes every high and low tide. We experience 15 to 20 typhoons every year. My country is called “The Philippines”.
As I recall, my advocacy started when I first got to know the word “global warming”, back when I was in 3rd grade. Years later, I am still that casual elementary school kid, who has an innocent mind and whose only problem is how to win Pokémon card battles. However, encyclopedias used to pile up in my room, where I started reading about subjects that would have later shaped my purpose in life. Global warming is the first term people used to refer to changes in the Earth’s atmospheric condition and temperature due to excessive human pollution. Soon after, I learned about the role of the ozone layer and how vital it is.
For a child to imagine his home and the world in a dystopian way is probably the worst nightmare of all. That’s how I felt when I first learned that the only planet we have is not going to make it past a hundred more years if our current climate condition keeps worsening.
Climate change needs action in order to be overcome. Therefore, alongside my cousins, we launched the Alpha Team Organization (or ATO), which has become a multi-interest organization. It grew with the addition of our classmates and people from other schools in my hometown. Then it when silent for a while.
A few years later, in 2015, I was in the midst of my college life. I had already adapted to a urban lifestyle. It looked like I had almost forgotten that back in my elementary and high school days I wanted to participate in tree-planting activities at our school as part of the Philippine government’s National Greening Program (GNP), which wanted to plant more than a million trees all over the archipelago.
My attention went back to environmental advocacy when I heard the news that almost 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement with the promise of finally getting serious about cutting carbon emissions.
I then applied for a conference in Manila which was hosted by the climate change forefront of former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Al Gore.
I was accepted to join the conference along with my cousin, Crystal Maureen Santillan, who became my most important ally in rebuilding the ATO. It was my first international conference. At first I was worried that people would notice my old shoes or my too-large coat. I then met Rubina Karki from Nepal, an environmental student in Kathmandu. She too is a passionate climate activist. So, we decided to join forces and thought of something that is probably the most important and sometimes the most underrated of all: climate change education.
We wanted to put ATO back on its feet and start a new authentic advocacy initiative. We launched the ClimatEducate Project on April 6, 2016, and opened its social media page on Facebook. In the following months, our project expanded in the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Brazil. What amazes me is the unexpected diversity of our team: some are climate change activists, some are practicing researchers and educators, others are graphic designers and some are even high school students.
We didn’t want our climate change education project to be limited to online sources, so we developed “Non-Online Initiatives” or NOIs and launched them through Kathmandu, Nepal first.
Then, our NOIs spread in many schools and communities in 11 different countries and that’s when we decided to divide our project into three major world regions: South Asia, Africa and South America. Our activities usually focus on basic climate change science and the contextualization of climate change issues.
After months of hard work, our Project has been 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 to go, the team decided to nominate me as the lucky one who got to participate in this incredible opportunity.
In the negotiations, I acted as an observer, surprised by policy jargons and climate science. Ultimately, I came to the realization that “climate change education” might need more time and resources. The schools that we had initiatives with barely had the required instructional equipment. I came to realize that we might need more.
After the COP22, 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.
We were able to reach 30 schools and communities with almost 2,500 participants, mostly students in 12 countries.
I kept thinking how powerful thoughts can be. Our project started out as a mere thought which became a concept and then a catalyst for the youth of the developing world.
We are not really sure where our Project will go from now. But one thing is for sure, that we will tell the generation after us that we once have fought to defend science, mankind, our planet and our home.