At Nada, we’re on a mission to use business as a force for good. One way that we work toward that goal is through our commitment to 1% for the Planet. This non-profit organization connects companies with vetted environmental nonprofits that are on a mission to make a difference in the world. We donate 1% of our profits to these organizations to fuel their passion and hard work. At Nada, we choose nonprofits that coincide with our own core values.
Our last partnership was with Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) and reminded us of the importance of our connection to the natural world. EYA specifically fosters this connection for marginalized and disadvantaged youth who are too often left without adequate opportunities to explore nature and learn about the environment. We are so inspired by the work EYA does and the humans behind the scenes that we wanted to highlight what they’re doing to make a difference. We talked with and learned so much from David and Sahar and we’re excited to share their insights with our community.
David Palmer | Philanthropy Officer
Why was EYA founded?
David: EYA was founded in 1989 as Canada’s first youth led environmental organization. A Vancouver high school student started a network of high school environmental clubs fighting for Indigenous land rights and environmental conservation. Meanwhile we were also empowering youth to take direct action to take care of the environment through nature conservation and community gardening in urban green spaces in Vancouver.
Since the early 90's, we (EYA) have created over a dozen community gardens and re-wilding spaces in the city. These spaces create habitat for birds and pollinators and make green space more accessible and biodiverse. We also have a youth run greenhouse which produces over 3,000 native plants annually and supports community based habitat restoration. Finally, we have a career development program to help more youth facing barriers enter the environmental sector.
What is EYA’s mission?
David: EYA’s mission is to connect youth who are facing barriers with nature and community and give them the skills to become environmental stewards and community leaders. We work with BIPOC youth (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), recent-immigrant youth, youth impacted by poverty or marginalization. Any youth that doesn't have the same opportunities to access nature or engage in the environmental movement. We do that through hands-on, land-based learning.
How does EYA address intersectional environmentalism?
David: Wow, that’s a big question! EYA is working toward a stronger, more inclusive environmental movement and sector. We provide free, accessible, land-based education for BIPOC Youth. Through the programs, we acknowledge and uplift all the diverse perspectives that the youth bring to the programs and honour the different ancestral traditions that we all have.
We teach the youth various different cultural perspectives on building relationships with plants, plant use, and environmental stewardship practices. We combine western scientific understanding of ecology with traditional indigenous ecological knowledge. We have Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers come to the program to teach youth about cultural, ceremonial, medicinal, and various ecological uses of native plants that we find in the pacific northwest.
Sahar Zandieh | Program Coordinator
Tell us about yourself and why you got involved with EYA
Sahar: Sure, so a bit about myself: I have lived on the west coast, Coast Salish territory, since I was 6 years old. I fell in love with the ocean and mountains and trees, I have always loved spending time in nature. When I finished my studies at University of British Columbia (UBC), I knew I wanted to work closely with nature and work with youth.
I've always really felt if there's one place I can invest my energy, youth is a great and preventative place I can put my energy instead of working in the field where we're addressing an ill that is already there. I’ve always loved working with youth, I worked with youth at UBC Farm where I completed my undergraduate degree. Specifically with programs focused on working with annual food crops. But then I discovered an opportunity with EYA who works more with native plants, propagation and re-wilding. That felt like a very natural next step because our landscapes will always need perennials and if we need to be growing plants we should be growing plants that grow well here. I joined the team about a year ago, and it's been fantastic, a lot of learning. Half of that time has been online which isn't ideal, but it's been great. I’m privileged to have an opportunity to do work that changes with the seasons and is reflective of the natural cycles of nature.
Why is environmental education and connection to nature so important for these marginalized youth?
Sahar: Well, I think environmental education is important for everyone, no matter who we are, what age we are, we all need the environment. It’s interesting because when I think about environmental education, I don’t think that it means education the way we think about it, it’s not necessarily formal, it doesn't always require pen and paper. I think what I've experienced at EYA is that it just means stepping outside. And your education begins with the first breath you take.
So I think it’s been really neat seeing first hand in these programs all these things we know that studies show us, that connection with nature improves our mental health, our emotional wellbeing, our physical wellbeing. We know this, studies have shown us this. But especially in cities, there’s a profound lack of nature and a profound disconnect with nature. It's interesting because for youth, they are the target of so many negative forces in society. We have a lot of studies that tell us the adverse effects of social media, advertising, and a lot of it is targeting this exact age group. It's profound to offer an alternative to being on a screen for these kids.
I think a lot of it is about connection, it's about relationships. Especially in Vancouver, sometimes the only interaction you will have in a day will be a transactional one, when you're purchasing something. A lot of people can go a long time without really connecting with others in a meaningful way. So connecting with nature in a meaningful way and then connecting with other people and youth in that context, I think is really important. A lot of it links to relationship with nature and relationship to one another.
How does EYA make a difference in these kids' lives? What opportunities does it provide and what doors does it open for them?
Sahar: I want to ask them! I think we have asked them in the past actually, we do surveys. Well, it’s interesting, I think there's short term and long term impacts and I don’t think we have enough data to confirm long-term effects. But, I think in the short term, we know that they tell us they're happier, that they feel like they're more connected, that they feel a sense of place. A lot of them are indigenous youth, youth of colour, recent immigrants. And I think to land well in a place and connect with nature is a really cool way of getting to know your new home. When you're hearing and learning about themes like decolonization in school all the time and you're hearing land acknowledgements and now you're actually connecting with that land and learning a new perspective of what it actually means to live here and the traditions of this land, it helps set these youth on a really sound path.
I was also reading the other day about how the more we know about something, the more compassion we have for that thing, so it’s really important from a young age to be exposed to a lot of things, a lot of good things hopefully, because without that it doesn't kindle this sort of compassion that will bring that sort of element into your framework.
So I think a big part of it is also providing the opportunity for these youth, who have even more pressure on them than the average youth, to connect with nature. It really helps bring the environment into their conceptual framework which will guide their decision making wherever they end up.
I see how it's affecting them in the short term. Now, in the long term, whether or not theses kids become environmental activists or are making decisions at the community level, or whatever it might be, if they're bringing that consideration into their framework that's a huge deal. Without it, there is so much that just allows us to focus on ourselves and allows us to not be considerate of this incredibly important thing that is vital to our lives.
We are so thankful for the work Environmental Youth Alliance does to create a space where youth can be exposed to nature and learn through doing. Thank you David and Sahar for sharing your experience and enlightening us on EYA’s mission. If you feel inspired by what EYA does and want to help fuel their efforts, donate below!