This month, Our Auckland chats to not one but three young heroes who spent their last holiday at the YouthEnviro Leader’s Forum (YELF) in New Plymouth.
Inka Pleiss (Howick College), Hayley Xie (Macleans College) and Henry Ewan (St Kentigern’s College) tell us about the forum and how they got involved.
Getting into YELF is competitive with only 55 places on offer; this year over 300 young environmental enthusiasts applied from across the country.
“I applied three years in a row!” Inka laughs, “So it was super exciting to finally be there!”
All of them are on environmental committees or groups at school. Inka has organised beach cleans up, green jams and weeding and planting of sustainable gardens, Hayley helped with the restoration of Motuihe Island and Henry has been reforming waste and recycling at his school.
YELF only got them more excited for future projects. The six-day forum included meeting Associate Minister for the Environment Nanaia Mahuta, heading out to sea to collect and observe plankton, visiting local iwi Te Āti Awa and a ton of leadership development activities.
“It was an absolutely incredible week,” Inka says. “I’m now friends with every single person who was there and we’re already planning reunions to go tramping together.”
One of Henry and Hayley's favourite activities was the simulation of different stakeholders debating environmental issues, with YELF attendees taking on stakeholder roles from the Ministries of Business and for the Environment to NGOs to farmers and businesses.
"You really understand the nuances of the issues," says Henry. "It makes you consider all the different perspectives."
Another highlight was learning about new technologies being used to eradicate pests and hiking up Mount Taranaki to see them in action.
“That was fascinating,” Haley says. “Technology is so advanced now but combating pests is such a massive job that we have to develop techniques faster and faster.”
And what inspired them for the future?
Inka and Hayley are both excited about sharing what they learned to get more projects and initiatives going, with Inka already keen to integrate environmental and conservation awareness into the educational curriculum.
Hayley commented it’s great those at YELF can spread the knowledge they learned.
“It’s so important we share everything we did, feed those lessons into our communities and bring the skills to help our schools.”
Henry was inspired to take a different view of environmental and conservation work after hearing from Te Āti Awa.
“Western values are focused on the economic incentives of caring for the environment,” he says, “I was so impacted by the Māori respect and love for the land – seeing the environment as a person not just a resource. You realise how vital it is to safeguard our land and native species for future generations.”