I cannot believe I am sitting here, just over one week later, sharing my adventures and stories about the Peace Boat’s Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Program. This program was sent to me by the Youth Program Coordinator at the International Secretariat for Water, who works closely with the World Youth Parliament for Water, a non-governmental organisation which I actively work with. I saw it, thought it was great but for some strange reason I dismissed it, but then eight other people sent me the program application, yes eight and I felt like it was a sign, more like a slap in the face for me to apply. I had no intention of upsetting the universe so I did what I should have done when I first received it and applied.
Two months passed and hadn’t heard anything so I that my application was not successful and continued my life as normal. Then out of the blue I got an interview with the program coordinator Chema, and a few weeks later, in my inbox was an acceptance letter, your girl was successful! To think I almost missed out on this opportunity because I was not in my logical mind ! That would have been tragic however, I believe I was destined to attend.
I had been accepted to participate in the 3rd installment of the Peace Boat Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Program from May 23rd to June 10th starting in Malta with stops in Motril Spain, Tangier Morocco, Ponta Delgada Portugal and ending in New York City. I was overjoyed! The more I thought about the program the more excited I got. My excitement levels were to the point of unhealthy but I did not care as I was about to embark on a life changing journey with amazing young people from small island developing states to spread knowledge about climate change and the importance of our oceans.
So, Let’s backtrack for a little.
What is this Peace Boat all about and the Ocean and Climate Program?
Peace Boat is a Japan-based international NGO which promotes peace, human rights, and sustainability. Their main activities are carried out through a passenger ship that travels around the world working in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign. The activities on board and in port empowers participants, strengthens local capacity for sustainability, and builds people-to-people cooperation beyond borders. The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Program brings youth leaders from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) on the front line of climate change and marine degradation to travel on-board Peace Boat’s ship, where they engage in capacity building and bring their message to citizens and government representatives through the voyage.
Sadly, attending this program was almost not a reality for me as sponsorship was very difficult to obtain. However, this was God’s plan because just when I was about to give up hope Global Water Partnership Caribbean (GWP-C) answered my prayers and provided me with sufficient funding to make this dream a reality. I was truly grateful. Water scarcity and water availability for all, are issues I am truly passionate about. Being sponsored by GWP-C, and an organisation working towards ensuring a water secure future in the Caribbean was a true blessing and the perfect alignment for my purpose.
First Stop Malta!
Excited, scared, nervous, were all the emotions I felt as I boarded my flight for Valletta Malta. May 22nd marked the unofficial start of a life changing journey. Eight Youth Ambassadors from Small Island Developing States were selected to participate in the Peace Boat Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Program. Upon my arrival at Malta I met with my fellow ambassador Nathalia (Talia) from Seychelles. We instantly clicked and I knew she was going to be my friend for life. She was small, literally 4 feet, 8 inches tall but she had a big heart, big ambitions and a huge drive that would get her very far in life.
Things got off to a very rocky start, and I prayed this was not a sign of what lay ahead. We waited in the airport for almost an hour for our pre-booked transportation, then as we reached the city, our driver rudely stopped in the middle of the road and threw us out of the taxi. I am not kidding you, he said “Get out! Hurry up I am blocking traffic!”
For a second I thought I was dreaming, but nope, this was actually happening, so we got out, got our bags and stood there like two lost souls, angry, confused and frustrated. Thanks to Google Maps we were able to find our hostel after walking for almost 30 minutes. Upon arriving at the hostel we were overjoyed only to realise a true test of our physical strength would be unexpectedly given to us as we had to walk up four flights of stairs with a total of 6 bags. Let me just say, these bags were heavy and there was no elevator, nothing at all to make this trek easy. So we dug deep and struggled up those stairs, making all the noise in the world as the suitcases banged on the stairs and walls, until we reached to our rooms, where we collapsed on the bed from pure exhaustion.
Despite our rocky start, we settled in, explored the city and were eager to meet the other Ambassadors the following day. Let me just say, Valletta is Beautiful! The city is filled with historic buildings, cobblestone streets, religious statues, regal structures, a buzzing atmosphere and a breathtaking waterfront highlighting all the glory that is Malta.
On May 23rd, we journeyed to British Hotel where we met Nathaniel (Nat) from Singapore, Eparama (Epa) from Fiji, Elsei from Palau, Jeovanic (Jeo) from St. Lucia, Ashneil (Ash) from Montserrat and Chema, the Program Coordinator from Barcelona, Spain. Formal greetings were exchanged and instantly, as if fate had brought kindred souls together, we immediately connected. Some might say it was “an island thing,” but I believe each and every one of us was meant to be there to connect and be impactful ambassadors of change. Elsei’s laugh was the most contagious thing ever it would literally make your heart smile and instantly put you in a good mood, Ash had all the charm in the world and could make you buy a rock because he was just that guy, Epa was super chilled but low key had all jokes and loved his belly, Nat was serious at first, but then he got comfortable maybe a little too comfortable and his fun spirit shone through with a drive and dedication to his work that was truly admirable. Jeo was a true Caribbean man and a devil’s advocate, always providing a different perspective on things that we were mostly grateful for. The day was very casual, we prepared for our formal activities for the following day and shared an engaging dinner with drinks, laughter and stories about ourselves.
With the blink of an eye, May 24th was here, and on the ocean blue, stood the majestic Peace Boat floating on the Mediterranean Sea, eagerly awaiting our presence. We said our goodbyes to the British Hotel and checked into the boat, totally mesmerised at the size and style of the ship. The lobby was stunning and for a moment I could not believe I was on a ship it felt more like a 5-star hotel. This was going to be my home for the next two and a half weeks and I was ready!
Our first official activity was at the University of Malta where we were pleasantly greeted by the Ambassador of Climate Change, Ms Simone Bourg and participated in an interactive session in the council room with academia, student representatives, policy makers and NGO leaders all working towards climate action in Malta.
First, we heard from Professor Alen Deidun, who specialises in ocean governance. He spoke on the issue of invasive and alien species in Malta which was linked to climate change. For example Jellyfish and Lionfish were once unable to pass through the Suez Canal but due to changing oceanic conditions this is no longer the case. This information is used as an indication of oceanic and climatic conditions, which is then used to guide future policies and climate foresight. To monitor this issue, they use Citizen Science to not only educate the public but to also get them involved in monitoring and solution development.
Some of the key issues that were also discussed by the other speakers were: the importance of policy development and proper context, the use of reliable data and proper data collection methods, transposing data to knowledge, the gap between science and policy and lastly the difference between vocabulary and language in terms of educating people on different environmental issues. What really stood out to me was a speech from Professor Paul Pace who drew the connection between knowledge, attitude and behaviour change, as well as different knowledge tools that can be used to educate people in order to facilitate meaningful action. He also touched on the role that children play in tackling Malta’s environmental issues through the use of Eco-Schools and a children’s parliament which gives young kids the opportunity to have a voice in policy development related to climate change and the environment. This was amazing to me because all my life I have heard “Children Must Be Seen And Not Heard” and here in Malta these children were given a voice and told that their voices are important. Believe it or not, that is a very powerful tool and I am truly impressed that as kids they have a platform to voice their concerns and solutions.
We, the youth ambassadors, were intrigued by all the information shared with us, and also seized the opportunity to highlight our problems and activities in our respective countries. At the end of the session we were reminded by Ms Bourg that the climate fight is huge, but we must remain positive. We enjoyed some light refreshments, casual conversations with the students and took the opportunity to take as many pictures as possible as our time there would soon come to an end.
Shortly after, we travelled to the Palace Valletta where we had the chance to meet His Excellency George Vella, President of Malta. Yes! You read correctly we had afternoon tea with the President. The last youth ambassador Tapua (Pua) from Tuvalu joined us at this location and she fit right into session like a long lost cousin joining a family dinner. Pua’s spirit was pure joy and she wore her Tuvaluan pride on her shoulders as she was proudly representing her country.
The palace was absolutely stunning I would be lying if I didn’t say that we all felt like royalty. From the ceiling design to the incredible chairs that were super soft it was a sight to behold. The President briefly described the beauties of Malta, his passion for the environment, as he was once the Environmental Minister of Malta and encouraged us to keep working towards making a difference in our countries and around the world.
When then walked back to ship from the palace and stopped for a few photos along the way. Upon boarding the ship, we welcomed The Minister of Education, Foreign Affairs & Trade Promotion and the minister of Environment & Sustainable Development and Climate Change. They all expressed faith in the future by acknowledging our work in our respective countries and encouraged us to continue being ambassadors of change. They also highlighted that their generation didn’t take ownership of the realities of climate change and ignored supporting evidence so it is important for our generation and future generations to use their voices and actions to fight for the environment and take meaningful climate action.
As this session ended the ministers left the ship and it was time to bid farewell to the beautiful city of Valletta. First however, we finally got the keys to our rooms. I was honestly afraid that it was going to be a small cramped, space with zero room to function and breathe. As usual I was just a tad bit dramatic because although the space was small, it was comfortable with enough breathing room for four females to not feel like we were on top of each other. The room was actually kind of cute and we had a beautiful view of the ocean through our enormous window.As the ship was preparing to leave Valletta a departing ceremony was held on the 9th floor on the outside deck of the ship. I unfortunately did not attend the departing ceremony because well…… it is a big ship and I got lost, so I missed everything. However, the night was young and we shared dinner and laughs with new friends who would soon become family as we watched the coastline of Valletta slowly fade into the deep blue sea. We had no idea what lay ahead, and writing this now let me tell you we were not ready! But we were all excited to experience life on board the Peace Boat and spread our messages on the ship and in the cities ahead.
NEXT STOP MOTRIL SPAIN !
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”-Margaret Mead
Written by: Khadija Stewart Trinidad and Tobago, Edited by Paige Andrew Trinidad and Tobago and Elsei Tellei Palau