By Melati Wijsen
Never before has there been so many people from a younger generation. The world is seeing more young people than it ever has in the whole of history.
Indonesia, my home, is the world’s largest archipelago with 17,000 islands, boasting pristine ecosystems and an abundance of biodiversity. Due to the beauty and raw nature of our country, I believe that we have a lot worth fighting for. Many challenges have come to our land; climate change is already impacting our everyday lives. Deforestation, the change in seasons, storms, rising sea levels, earthquakes and volcano eruptions have put a lot of pressure on the ecosystem and the people.
When I was 12 years old, I had this feeling that I could not wait until I was older to start making a difference. After being inspired by a lesson in class about real people who had made a difference - like Nelson Mandela, Lady Diana and Ibu Kartini - my sister and I went home that day thinking, ‘what can we do as kids living on Bali? What can we do NOW?’
Growing up on the island of Bali, we could see firsthand the negative impacts of plastic pollution. It was everywhere. So, combined with a concern about the plastic pollution problem and the inspiration from the classroom, we created a movement.
It is important that the youth are being heard because everything is happening in our lifetime - and it is life changing. Indonesia also has the world’s third youngest population after India and China. We grow up with natural disasters happening in our backyard, the beach, mountains and valleys we used to play in during our childhood. We are amongst the first generation to live through these challenges and experience the extreme changes in our climate up close. It is a matter of making the right decisions to keep working towards a future that we want to be a part of.
It was so simple; without a business plan, a strategy, or even a budget, we moved forward with our passion and our pure intentions. I had a voice, I believed in something and that is all that mattered. That is all it took to start one of the biggest youth led movements in the country.
Five years ago, we started a mission to make Bali - our island home - plastic bag free. Our campaign was fun and creative thanks to thinking outside the box. These are skills unique to our generation. We are able to see a problem, and instead of looking at it as a burden, we see it as an opportunity.
Instead of asking “if” the change is going to happen, we ask “when” it will happen. The technologies, the innovation, the bright minds are here, it is just about connecting the dots together. I believe that today’s youth can do that.
So, to all the young people out there, just go for it, find that one thing you are really passionate about and stand up for it. It won’t always be easy, but what I’ve learned is that if you have the support of a team it becomes a lot easier.
We youth may only be 25% of the world’s population but we are 100% of the future.
_Melati Wijsen is the founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags and a Children’s Climate Prize finalist._
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