From our Chair: Keeping youth engaged

Watching young people become inspired to help shape our region’s future is one of the most satisfying aspects of my role as Chair.

Seeing them re-connect with nature while they do it is even more gratifying.

A prime example of the way nature-based education can steer thinking and actions to benefit the environment is the Waterwise Canterbury programme

Environment Canterbury Chair Jenny Hughey

Environment Canterbury Chair Jenny Hughey

Advocacy and leadership

The intensive, week-long leadership experience is a joint venture between Untouched World Charitable Trust, Ngāi Tahu, Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury), Rata Foundation, and Ara Institute of Canterbury.

It sees high school and university students delve into the issue of sustainable water management, with a focus on the Selwyn Waihora zone.

They explore the four key matters – water use, availability, quality, and economics – through measures including farm visits (often involving some hands-on mahi by the student group) and discussions with a wide range of players with an interest in freshwater issues.

The rangatahi are taught that to truly advocate for the land, they must first engage with the natural world – only then can they become kaitiaki.

With this ‘head, heart, and hands’ approach at the centre of the programme, the week concludes with students presenting their ideas to an invited audience on ways that water management could be improved, followed by general conversation.

Future opportunities

For some, the programme is instantly transformational. For others, it’s a slower burn – it plants a seed that will shape their future decisions around education and career paths.

Unfortunately, uncertainties around COVID-19 have meant the programme’s April intake will be pushed back a few months, but this has created a window of opportunity.

Stakeholder groups, including former graduates, will instead meet for a discussion about the programme’s future – including whether its scope should be widened beyond the Selwyn Waihora zone.

Whatever the outcome, the programme will continue to be an example of our commitment to nature-based youth education and of fostering engagement in participatory democracy.

Youth voices

Meanwhile, our Youth Rōpū is starting 2022 with 11 brand new members.

Formed in 2019, the rōpū provides a platform for young people and decision-makers at Environment Canterbury to work together on issues important to youth. It ensures the voices of rangatahi are heard – and shows them that they can make a difference.

Nature must sit alongside the economy in our decision-making – and it’s our youth who’ll be driving this way of thinking.

Let’s ensure they have the resources to do so.

As always, if you have any questions – please get in touch.