At the start of 2019 one of my goals was to live in a Scandinavian country for 6 months so I could experience their culture and explore a world completely different from mine. As the year progressed this seemed highly unlikely, so I set a new goal of at least visiting one of these countries with absolutely no idea how I was going to achieve this. As fate would have it, I was accepted to participate in the Peace Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Program where I met Brandon Levy, Program Director at Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA). He was one of our many guest speakers on board the ship, leading sessions on human well being, leadership, personal development and ocean conservation. We also had the pleasure of meeting Daniela Fernandez- CEO and Founder of SOA at the World Oceans Day celebrations at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Check the link below for more on my Peace Boat Experience.
I vividly remember the first time I met him on the ship. Our program director Chema Sarri invited us for drinks and a light dinner to introduce us to Brandon. Most of the other youth ambassadors were tired or busy completing various tasks so Elsei and myself went to dinner to meet him. I remember thinking ‘wow, this guy is tall, but he seems down to earth and extremely knowledgeable’. During one of his sessions with the youth ambassadors, he briefly mentioned the Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit (OOYLS) but, I completely dismissed it. One day while sitting by myself at Bahia Bar, Brandon joined me, during our conversation I expressed my desire to visit a Scandinavian country because I had read so much about their progress, economic wealth, energy efficiency, environmental advancements and quality of life and every bone in my body wanted to see for myself what all the raving was about. Again, he mentioned the Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit in Oslo and highlighted that this might be an opportunity for me to achieve that goal whilst participating in a meaningful program. I considered his words for a moment and again dismissed it. That’s honestly a horrible trait of mine.
The program ended, but somewhere at the back of my mind lived the idea of attending the Summit, sadly I kept trying to convince myself that I did not belong. My work focused on climate change as well as land and water management, although I was very knowledgeable about the oceans, I just felt like I could not be of value to that Summit or I was robbing someone more deserving of the opportunity.However, I kept seeing the Summit on my Facebook page, Instagram account and LinkedIn, not a day went by that I didn’t see an application announcement. To make matters worse, people starting directly sending it to me, and Chema from the Peace Boat continuously encouraged us to apply.
I made the decision to at least open the application form and guess who closed it five minutes later? Me, of course! I was completely done with the thought and made up mind not to attend. As it turns out I was doing some research for assignment of mine and I had learnt more about how our activities on land are seriously affecting the oceans and, that in the Caribbean, more than 75% of marine litter originates from our freshwater bodies like rivers. This got me thinking and just like that I had re-opened the application form and completed it. My application was successful, and I was on my way to Oslo!
Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit was co-hosted by Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) and the Arctic University of Norway (UiT) in cooperation with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One hundred young people from 48 countries were brought together to collectively develop solutions to our critical ocean problems. I am extremely proud to say I was one of them!
The Summit was from October 22nd to October 24th and I was ready. Two weeks prior to my arrival in Oslo I was in London with my sister, I then had to fly to Trinidad for one day, then to St Kitts and Nevis for the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association Annual Conference, then back to Trinidad for one day, back to London and then to Oslo. I can safely say I reached Oslo in full zombie mode; I was exhausted! Horrified to take the train on my own in fear of falling asleep and ending up in Sweden I waited for a fellow participant who landed shortly after me. This is where I met Kohei from Japan. We journeyed to the city centre together, exchanging stories about our countries on the train ride. As we reached our final stop, we disembarked the train and walked to the Hotel Clarion to register for the conference. If you don’t know Oslo, it is not a flat city, there are many inclines that would feel normal if we weren’t carrying a heavy suitcase. After registering, we walked to the Hotel Verdandi which is where all the participants were staying. At this point my arms no longer belonged to me and my body was not mine anymore, but I could not rest yet we had our opening cocktail reception. We quickly changed and walked to the reception. Unfortunately, we were late, not fashionably late but 30 mins to closing late, so we decided to make the most of it. We had a few glasses of wine and some beers, met a few other participants and I reunited with Brandon!
When the reception ended a few others decided to visit the local night life, but my eyes were basically closed, and my body had shut down, so we went back to the hotel where I slept like a baby. October 22nd was the official start of the summit and the excitement was real. On the first morning at breakfast I met some of the other participants and thoroughly enjoyed my morning meal. Together we walked to the Hotel Clarion where the Summit was being held and officially kicked things off.
To start the activities, we were given the opportunity to present ourselves and our work in one minute. Many of the participants took to the stage and shared their amazing projects in their respective countries which was truly inspiring. My shyness sadly got the better of me and I could not bring myself to go on that stage, which looking back was very silly of me because it was just for one minute. Presenting yourself in 60 secs proved to be a task for many people but Ron from Sustainable Ocean Alliance ensured that everyone stuck to the time.
We were then divided into groups based on a subject matter as it relates to the oceans, my group focused on building urban resilience as sea level rise due to climate change threatens coastal communities. I was joined by Bret from the Philippines, Subramanian from India, Tamar from Georgia and Amber from Palau.
As a group we were tasked with the design thinking bootcamp aimed at tackling our problem first-hand and developing a project to help cities build urban resilience. I thought this bootcamp would be easy, smooth sailing, a walk in the park but, I could not have been more wrong. Properly identifying the problem, looking at the impacts and deciding which angle to develop the solution from was a lot more challenging than anticipated. We were however guided based on a series of small tasks to help with each process. Thankfully, everyone in my group was on the same page, we defied all the laws of complex group dynamics as everyone was in sync, respecting each other’s ideas and building off one another to come up with the ultimate project entitled “The Brain”. It took a lot of brain power to get there which is probably why we decided to name it the brain, but it allowed us to learn more about problems in each other’s country and build meaningful friendships.
At the end of the day it was time for our group picture which was taken in Jernbanetorget which is a very popular square in front of Oslo’s Central Station. The square was filled with ocean related displays, educating the public on marine litter and other ocean related topics. The day did not end there, that night was movie night, although I wanted to attend, my jet-lag was intense and I would have fallen asleep during the movie, snored at the top of my lungs and probably drool all over myself. To save myself the embarrassment I went straight to bed.
Although I did not attend this is what my friend Kohei from Japan had this to say about the movie night– “We watched series of short films at the Our Ocean Film Night. Through those films, we learnt how unaware humans are of the vast number of creatures that inhabit the deep-water and how difficult it is to develop a new vehicle which can tolerate extremely strong pressure conditions in order to explore the deep sea. Also, we watched a video about the deep-sea Bluntnose sixgill sharks, which is known as an ancestral species. This was and that was sooooo cool! The eye of the shark which appeared when the light turned off and then turned on was incredibly cool and even awed me. Aside from films, we had the honour of listening to the backstage stories of films and exploration from Vincent Pieribone. Those were the best deep-sea adventure videos I’ve ever seen!”
Day two was all about pitching our projects that we developed during the bootcamp session to renowned group of “Sharks” or judges such as Vincent Pieribone, vice chairman at OceanX, Tom Grasso, Oceans initiative lead and senior program officer at the Walton Family Foundation, Elizabeth Kim, Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs at the U.S Department of State and Gry Ulverud, COO at REV Ocean. The winner would be granted both funding and technical support for their project and was also given the opportunity to present their project at the main Our Ocean Conference.
Most of the morning was spent solidifying our projects and learning how to pitch project ideas in one minute. Yes, you read correctly we had one minute to sell the judges on our idea and best believe Ron was there to ensure everyone stuck to the time limit. It seemed like a nerve-racking task however, each group braced the stage and presented some amazing ideas tackling issues of ocean pollution, plastics, sustainable fisheries, coral reef restoration, ocean awareness and much more. In just one day 20 groups of 100 young people came up with some phenomenal ideas to tackle some of our oceans’ most pressing problems, highlighting the amazing power of young people across the globe. It really makes you wonder, if we could do that in one day, why are things not changing? Why are governments not doing more? What is the real issue?
Our project “The Brain” focused on an information hub that would provide raw data and information to various stakeholders in society both private and public using tools such as GIS, Flood Vulnerability Analysis, Citizen Science, Building codes, just to name a few in order to help coastal cities build urban resilience against sea level rise. Our project did not win but we were proud of our solution and maybe one day with funding one of us or all of us would be able to implement it in our respective countries. The winning idea was a mobile application aimed at putting consumers in friendly competition with their peers to lower their energy consumption while allowing governments to evaluate emissions reductions. The team was comprised of four young people from Pakistan, Thailand, Ireland, and Ghana who were given the opportunity to present alongside Daniela Fernandez, SOA’s Founder and CEO, on the main stage at the conclusion of the Our Ocean Conference.
This is what Bret Guiterrez from the Philippines had to say about the bootcamp- “Our Ocean Conference was the best platform advancing my ‘advocaSEA’. The bootcamp, perhaps, was the best part since it was a melting pot of all our diverse ideas in creating a sustainable solution in building ocean resilience founded on designs thinking.”
Throughout the two days we were greeted by exceptional guest speakers providing us with words of wisdom and encouragement such as; His Royal Highness Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,Peter Thompson, UN Special Envoy for the Oceans, E.U. Commissioner Karmenu Vella, First Lady Debbie Remengesau of the Republic of Palau, Afroz Shah, Champion of the Earth at UNEP and other leaders across the government and the private sector. They were all truly inspiring, I can safely say I attentively listened to all of them as I was completely blown away by their messages and work.
Afroz Shah’s speech really stood out to me, he shared with us his love for walking along the Dana Pani Beach in Mumbai, and playing cricket on the sand as a little boy growing up. However, during his adulthood years he witnessed the beach drowning in insanely high piles of debris. Frustrated and heartbroken at the situation he acted. Many laughed at him because he was a very successful lawyer, but he decided to dedicate his time to cleaning the beach. He was looked down on as garbage collector who was throwing his life away, but he saw the bigger picture, and despite the continuous backlash for his efforts he was determined to clean that beach. As he began making progress people slowly started joining the movement and now, they are responsible for the world’s largest beach clean-up project, removing over 60 million pounds of garbage. The movement has since grown and expanded to other water bodies in India and has incorporated educational outreach activities to help solve the problem. He told us -“This world talks too much. I think you must talk less and do action more…Every citizen on this planet must be in for the long haul.” Likewise, Former Secretary of State John Kerry said, “You must stand up to those who spread disinformation and challenge your politicians to do better,” We could not have asked for a better group of speakers.
Throughout the conference, we had little ocean terminologies we would use to either celebrate or great each other. The silent conch was for silencing the room like the name suggests during different sessions, we had the kelp wave to congratulate each other and the jelly fish was a hand greeting like a bounce or handshake that then turned into a jellyfish.
One of our participants Mark had an amazing idea for us to reach out to Famous talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who is also popular for her role as Dory in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
Mark said- “We wanted to make a video that is a call for Ellen Degeneres to engage with sustainability because of her large audience. Ellen is known for taking popular media movements and using her platform to expose them to the large audience of her show and her celebrity. Through exposure to this base of people, we could push more ways in which people can be sustainable.”
Peace US was also present at the conference, highlighting the different sustainable programs on the boat as well as their Ecoship. It was a pleasure to also reunite with them during the conference.
On our last night Kohei, myself and Amber went to the American franchise restaurant TGIFridays and enjoyed a group dinner sharing stories about our culture, favourite things to do and just having a great time enjoying each other’s company. We then joined the others for a spectacular night of partying in true Oslo fashion at one of the local bars.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, the conference was officially over, and everyone headed back home to their respective countries. I stayed and explored Oslo a few days after with my sister who flew in from London. Oslo took me by surprise, I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, the city is beautiful with an extremely rich history and I am glad I came to my senses and decided to apply to the Summit We often let our insecurities get in the way of our growth and progress but, deep down we must always try to remember that everything happens for a reason and whatever opportunity comes our way we deserve it. I am truly grateful to Brandon and the whole SOA team for such an exceptional conference. I know everyone left feeling inspired and motivated and we owe it all to you guys and the conference sponsors.
Nicholas from Haiti had this to say about the Summit -“It was a unique and special experience with young leaders from diverse backgrounds who shared a single passion: the ocean. It was also the expansion of the network of young leaders working to protect the blue planet. At times, we feel alone in our struggle with very little support from the communities and the government of our country, but with a platform bringing together all the young people and mentors who participated in OOYLS, we feel empowered to continue the fight for a healthier environment by the day.”
That was the best conference I have ever been to, and I know I have said it before, but I will say it again