Meet two young eco-warriors stepping up in the fight against climate change

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Rocco Da Silva & Yola Mgogwana (Images: Tando Guzana / W24)
Rocco Da Silva & Yola Mgogwana (Images: Tando Guzana / W24)

Now more than ever we’re seeing children live up to the well-known phrase ‘the children are the future’, as they share their voice on the issues that matter. From New York to Sweden, and South Africa, children of all ages are speaking up against an issue that affects us all – climate change.  

In fact, major brand H&M have taken on an initiative looking to celebrate, support, improve, and contribute to a better future for children and parents alike. They believe that the world needs to embrace the optimistic, collaborative, free-thinking spirit of children. Their new worldwide initiative is looking to identify and support young social, environmental, and civic role models. Together with Oscar-nominated director Bryan Buckley, H&M has created a thought-provoking short film that features the kinds of role models the world needs today – kids. Kids are more informed, engaged, and capable than ever before, so it is no surprise why they are the focus of this bespoke H&M campaign.  

H&M is introducing these role models from around the world and shedding light on their causes. The definition of a role model for H&M is somebody we can all learn something from and be inspired by to progress towards a better tomorrow. Kids with the potential and purpose to make us grown-ups feel small.

In 2019, role-model and icon Greta Thunberg, just 16 years old at the time, had grabbed the world’s attention with her powerful speech at the UN Climate Change Summit. Similarly, children across the globe and right here on SA soil have been becoming pioneers of the change they wish to see. We reached out to two young local climate change warriors who have been making waves in the fight against Global Warming. 

Yola Mgogwana, a 13-year-old Climate Activist with the Earthchild Project Eco Warriors, and Rocco Da Silva, the 12-year-old founder of The Future Kids club, shared with us not only what led them to take action but also how you can as well. 

See what they had to say below: 

How old were you when you first started finding an interest in climate change? 

Yola: I was inspired and started looking into activism when I was 11 years old. I was a grade six learner at Yomelela Primary and part of Earthchild Project Eco Warriors

Rocco: I've always had an interest in protecting the environment on a personal level, but when I was 9 years old, I wanted to create an app, but the app was too expensive, so I moved on to creating a website, as this was developing, I decided it didn’t have a physical aspect so I introduced beach clean-ups.  

Who or what inspires you to fight for change? 

Yola: What inspires me to make change is looking around where I live. I live in an informal settlement at Khayelitsha site B and share a communal tap with 55 other families. When the tap runs dry it's hard and we often have to choose between buying a break or water. Every day we suffer from the effects of Climate Change. When it rains our homes are vulnerable to floods. Talking to my peers and neighbours, I realised most people had no awareness and did not make the links with what we are experiencing with climate change. That is why I committed myself to spread awareness and to continue learning about our environment so I can take better care of it and educate my community. 

Rocco: Well, I've always felt strongly about looking after the planet but as I was getting older, I started realising that nothing much was happening in South Africa to look after our planet. My family and I like going to the beach and then that's when I got exposed to seeing how humanity was destroying the planet with litter and plastic pollution. I didn't like that at all, so that’s when I decided to start my club, The Future Kids. So, I would say that nature inspired me. 

Do you think adults always have all the answers? 

Yola: Not always. I don't think they have all the answers, but they can help admit and create spaces to meet us halfway in helping them find solutions to make our Mother Earth Healthy.  

Rocco: No, definitely not. If the adult is talking in the context of his or her career then it makes more sense to say they have experience and knowledge, they can give guidance. No one has all the answers that's why in general humanity is really good at working together because we have evolved to work together. That is how humanity has progressed over time, people who have the knowledge and share it that is how a community grows. 

If you were President for the day, what are the first things you'd put into action? 

Yola: If I would be a President for a day, I would change the education policy and include Climate Education as a learning area so that in schools children can learn about Climate Change and be inspired to be the change from a young age. I will also declare climate change as an emergency so we can have policies in place to better take care of our Mother Earth so action can be taken. 

Rocco: I would pass a law that enforces at least 30% of our coastlines must become marine protected areas (M.P.A) and not to just state that it's a M.P.A but to enforce and actually protect these areas. I would also make education free and improve education for all children, as we are the ones who will be living on this planet and we are the ones who have to come up with the solutions to the problems created by older generations. 

What do you think schools should do differently to better educate children on climate change? 

Yola: Schools should educate children about climate change for kids to have better knowledge and information about climate change because we might do speeches and go to marches but that doesn't mean all children know about us. So, it's very important for children to get educated about climate change. They can also start action projects like Eco Warriors so kids can get inspired to act and create change and mostly all schools should plant their own vegetable garden for learners to learn about taking care of the soil and to build sustainable eco-schools. 

Rocco: I think schools should make education about climate change a more prominent subject and make it equal to the core subjects rather than just a side activity that is done once in a while. I would also suggest more physical activities and exposure to what climate change is, as I believe “showing and doing” has a bigger impact than just “telling”. Schools should also be a place that encourages kids to see the harm that plastic pollution has done and is doing to our planet.  

What is one of your biggest goals or hopes for the future? 

Yola: My hope for the future is that we all unite - no matter what race, culture, and religion - to spread awareness and put our differences behind us and fight climate change. We also need to talk more about climate justice because people like me get affected socially. Both social and ecology are important and affect one another. If we continue not taking care of the environment, people are going to continue suffering especially those who live in poor communities. 

Rocco: My hope for the future is that I have inspired other kids to start their own initiatives, that are in some way linked to climate change in a positive way. I love science and will keep learning as I believe that is the way for us to find solutions.  

Would you consider yourself a role model to your peers and younger kids interested in climate change? 

Yola: Yes, I do see myself as a role model especially to my peers and elders in my community. Many children in my primary school have joined the movement to save our planet because of my cause. I also have started an Eco Club to inspire more young kids to raise awareness and inspire them to join the movement. I also see myself as my own role model and inspiration. It's not easy being an activist but every day I wake up fully inspired to continue because the scientists have proven that we only have less than 10 years left to make a change, but for some living in a poor community there is less time because they are already living the effects of climate change. If we can unite and care about the kids’ future, good things can happen. 

Rocco: I don’t feel like I am the first person to do this, everyone should be doing this. But, I definitely have sparked some sort of activism in the people that I surround myself with, which is awesome. I think we need to have mentors, people we can learn from, people who can give us knowledge, tools and impact us in a positive way, my mentor is Dr Nelson Miranda of Argonaut Science.

What are some words of wisdom you'd give to kids regarding taking action and owning their voice?  

Yola: If you want to make a change you have to be your own ‘Warrior’! Start small in your home by doing little things like re-using your litter, cleaning up your community. Invite your friends to join and watch your movement grow. Do not be afraid to fail and always remember it is our future we are fighting for. We are in this together! 

Rocco: I would say that you must research things that you are passionate about, then find the link between that and climate change. Do what you can to make sure your passion is having a positive impact on the planet and the people around you. It's all about creating a link with your passion and a positive impact on the environment because we need to be happy and inspired, working together to move humanity forward while protecting our planet for future generations. 

If you think you or someone you know is a role model making a change in the world, visit the H&M website to nominate a role model you think deserves a spotlight moment to share their stories. Later this year, H&M aims to spotlight their efforts and create awareness for how the broader community can join in their work and join the movement.

H&M graphics for climate change role models

(Images: Supplied)

This post is sponsored by H&M produced by BrandStudio24 for Parent24.

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