Listening in Laos
Laos PDR faces widespread deforestation and land degradation. Today, young people and climate advocates throughout the country are listening, engaging, and building solutions within their communities.
I spend a lot of time in the field.
As a wildlife and forestry conservation advocate in Lao PDR, one of the most significant aspects of what I do is communicating with victims of climate change – listening as local villagers and farmers throughout the country recount their many challenges.
I’ve heard untold stories of families who have watched as natural food sources, raw materials, herbal remedies and natural fuel have rapidly decreased for decades. For many, they share the devastating effects of species loss as fauna and flora species have become endangered and extinct. They experience more frequent floods, droughts, water pollution, and land degradation, intensifying each year and dangerously affecting their agricultural production.
This is a debilitating loss as these families rely on income generated by harvesting. Yet, we try to bring hope and practical solutions. We listen and learn from each other, discovering new initiatives to adapt and mitigate climate change in the community.
Listening, understanding, and, at times, mourning with these villagers is crucial.
My journey as a climate advocate started when I decided to study at the Faculty of Forestry, National University of Laos, a controversial decision at the time.
As a youth, I was passionate about environmental protection; however, working within forestry was not a popular career choice for women in Lao PDR. Forestry and conservation were considered men’s jobs; women like me were encouraged to take up business and work in an office environment.
However, I decided to fulfil my ambition to combat environmental issues rather than follow society’s expectations of appropriate careers for women. I told myself, “I can overcome all these challenges.” Why? Because I believe everyone has a part to play in addressing environmental issues. Even the tiniest contributions can create significant change. My personal motto has always been, “Just thinking of change; you’ve already made a difference.”
Laos faces many environmental problems, including deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and land degradation. I knew I wanted to be part of the community fighting against the climate crisis and making positive changes.
In 2017, I put myself at the forefront of the international climate movement and decided to gain a global perspective on forestry and climate change. However, I understood that the relentless and forceful work of informed youth leaders is crucial to our planet’s survival. Now, as the country manager of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), I’m part of the team actively pushing forward the implementation of the ASEAN Youth Biodiversity Programme, cultivating and encouraging young climate advocates from our ten member states.
As part of our youth programme, we’ve developed three working initiatives to combat climate change: the Youth Internships for Protected Areas in ASEAN, the Young ASEAN Storytellers cohort, and the Youth Biodiversity Leaders.
The internship program places youth advocates at ASEAN Heritage Parks or other protected areas in their respective countries. They became a part of the park team, creating environmental awareness campaigns, helping law enforcement, developing tourism plans, and reviewing policies to improve operations. At the same time, our young storytellers produce inspirational and powerful stories of our shared natural and cultural heritage through photography, artwork, writing, and film.
The Youth Biodiversity Leaders programme encourages dynamic leaders to create biodiversity strategies and action plans at the local, national, and regional levels. With energy, passion, command of technology, and fresh ideas, young people all over the region have become part of the solution to halt biodiversity loss and take action on climate change.
We listen and learn from each other, discovering new initiatives to adapt and mitigate climate change in the community.
The youth are the generation that will shape our shared future. Still, they also have to bear the overwhelming burden of ecological collapse, losing their futures to the dangerous consequences of climate change that are almost out of control. Is it any wonder that many young people have actively engaged in climate movements, working tirelessly to propel their communities to climate action?
Besides the meaningful efforts of youth in addressing the climate crisis, all sectors must provide the greatest support to young people, especially in vulnerable areas. These young leaders must participate in all discussions and decision-making processes to shape their sustainable future. Climate justice for all must be considered in development plans as we adapt to climate change.
We have to act now; there is no time to waste on the climate crisis. Everyone is responsible for protecting our remarkable environment and our home planet.