This guest blog was written by Hannah Freedman.
al.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/youthblast.png” alt=”" width=”548″ height=”377″ />Five young women, seated on the floor, leaned closer to hear. Though we had come to Rio+20 from different continents, our understanding and empathy grew as we realized how similar our issues are. A Moroccan woman spoke of a cooperative founded by village women that distributed unique oil and ensured that the profits remained in the community. The South African woman immediately piped up, sharing a situation in Mozambique that could benefit from a similar design. Business cards were exchanged, and I realized the same communication has been replicated thousands of times during these two days of Youth Blast.
I am one of 500 youth from around the world here at the Youth Blast, opening up Rio+20. I am 17, and am the youngest member of SustainUS, a U.S. youth delegation. However, here, age does not seem to change anything. All ideas are heard and valued, and workshops are lead by youth of all ages. These workshops showcase the incredible things that youth are doing and the impact that we are having. The flurrying exchange of ideas in this conference center is palpable; everywhere one looks, people are excited and sharing their thoughts. Every single person, from the most experienced policy experts to the least has something to share and something to learn. Having a conversation and creating friendships and partnerships is of the utmost importance. Making connections between young people doing powerful things unites youth worldwide over the same relevant issues, and it is this that will make the youth voice strong and heard.
One of my favorite parts of the Youth Blast has been being able to connect some dots. The entire idea of sustainable development is that it uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine many problems together. My history and experience has covered everything from energy conservation to epidemiology to environmental classism, and the workshops so far have really helped me understand the connections between the issues. I began my work in sustainability because of an interest in community health. I caught the public health bug and the chicken pox on the same day, and collected data to track the varicella outbreak in my school. I was able to see exactly how the disease traveled and could see a correlation between many of the cases and one month’s worth of vaccines in the same place, suggesting a faulty batch of vaccines. Health is the most important issue in any society, but with no medical training, it was hard to get involved. I therefore channeled my energy into environmental issues. When one breaks down modern environmentalism, we are simply trying to maintain an environment in which humans can be healthy and prosper.
The International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (http://ifmsa.wordpress.com/category/rio20/) held a workshop Sunday afternoon on the relationship between sustainable development and health. It was a novel concept for me that my work in environmentalism could be directly related to my interest in public health, and the presenters helped me understand that health is really at the crux of the sustainable development issue. Sustainable development can be explained through a triple Venn diagram: the intersections between the environment, the economy, and society. If each of the three sections is cooperating properly, a community is healthy in every regard. Health is essentially the center of the Venn diagram, and should be the goal of every aspect of community. If health is considered in all decisions made, a community will be closer to embracing the principles of sustainable development.
I have been so grateful for the opportunity to develop my passion for environmentalism and health, and so excited to hear and learn about the unique passions of other youth attending the Youth Blast. In the true spirit of sustainable development, we are learning that it will take all of us and our diverse interests to help our countries begin to make change at Rio+20.
Hannah Freedman is a Rio+20 delegate with SustainUS, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of young people advancing sustainable development and youth empowerment in the United States. Through proactive education and advocacy at the policy-making and grassroots levels, SustainUS is building a future in which all people recognize the inherent equality and interdependence of social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Learn more at www.sustainus.org.
This entry reflects the author’s personal judgments and does not represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.