The Malaysian Youth Delegation hosted the annual Retreat at EPIC Collective over the weekend of the 28th and 29th April 2018. New members were asked to reflect the activities they took part in, what they learned along the way, and what they took away from the experience. Here’s what our new members had to say:
By Weng Dee
Making the decision to send in my application for MYD was a last minute decision which I’ve not come to regret. Attending the retreat was eye-opening in terms of gaining new knowledge about policies, and of myself. I’ve come a long way from the person I was a year or two ago in terms of my ability to interact with people and speak up but counterintuitively, when surrounded in a room full of people with the similar drive to tackle the same cause I find myself nervous? Intimidated?
I don’t know. What I know after the retreat is that I still feel very reserved when it comes to speaking strongly on a view I hold, partly due to the fact that I know that we are very rarely objectively right about something and also because I’m an awkward turtle. But it was amazing to meet so many amazing new people with at least one commonality between us all.
This sounds a little bit pessimistic perhaps, but my interest in learning about policy and being involved in making change happen on a higher organizational level is in part due to a strong belief (subject to change) that individuals are not able to change at a pace quick enough to solve the urgent environmental (and other) issues we face.
I fully support grassroots activism and taking individual action in response to these problems. I know the common words of encouragement is that “every person makes a difference” and I myself say these words in effort to convince others to pick up a greener habit. However I think that the value of taking personal action is in living more aligned with our personal values and the causes we believe in, as well as the cascading effect of influencing others when we inadvertently or otherwise convince others to follow in our footsteps; rather than the actual contribution of that one less plastic straw or how much water you saved by choosing to consume chicken rather than beef (it’s actually quite a large amount).
With that said, I understand that not everyone is willing or able to contribute to conceptually difficult and large-scale issues like climate change. So the empowerment I feel in making small contributions to a bigger movement is certainly not the same in someone who either does not feel strongly about these issues, have other personally more important things to worry about, or people who outright deny the existence of these issues. In such cases, sustainable living needs to become something more of a default rather than something that requires a deliberate and conscious opt-in.
This becomes a problem even when looking at the large picture and at higher levels. As mentioned at some point in the retreat, one of the problems that has developed over the many years of environmental policy-making is the increasing degree of voluntary contributions by countries rather than legally binding requirements declared by an external party. The often trivial “personally more important things to worry about” that manifests on an individual scale becomes things like prioritizing economic growth and other short-term gains when the situation is flipped to that of governing a country.
Anyway, I suppose MYD then is kind of a balance between these two ends of the spectrum of taking personal action vs. governmental action. In the retreat, we were taught about how MYD is part of a larger constituency which comprises many other similar groups of youths with the same drive to tackle climate change. On the other hand, we can also see how MYD is unique as we work more closely with the government and thus have a more direct role in instigating top-down change on a national level. This actually still blows my mind a little bit and it’s a little overwhelming to think of taking on such a responsibility.
Seeing the work and experiences that the facilitators have gone through running MYD including, but certainly not limited to, liaising with the government, coordinating MYD activities, attending COP (and actually doing important things), attending workshops, giving talks – in all honesty – is incredibly intimidating to me and it’s difficult for me to remember that I’m attending this retreat and joining MYD not only just to help you guys out in doing these things, but to eventually have the ability and confidence to also do these very same things. The sharing sessions of trivial things like Mike googling how to pronounce Kiribati minutes before delivering his intervention then has been incredibly important in bringing all of you amazing people back to earth and realising we’re all not too different and that you guys are like actually humans.
Once again in all honesty, I’ve signed up to be a part of MYD not fully knowing what the responsibilities and requirements are. At the moment, I’m excited to immerse myself in taking meaningful action ever since my interest in the environment grew recently but I understand that one person cannot do everything (and shouldn’t?). So I’m still exploring and contemplating about my place within this larger movement; is it behind a laptop planning for MYD activities and completing my homework, meeting with government officials or is it out on an island planting corals and in a remote jungle building water pipes and infrastructure? With this excitement and feeling of urgency to do something I may admittedly have taken on more than I can chew, but I look forward to seeing and taking part in what’s in store on this journey while I decide on where my place is within this larger movement and whether it’s possible to juggle all these things at once.