Sameer, a Youth-n-Democracy fellow, is passionate about working on issues of sustainability and the environment. For his social action project, an essential part of the fellowship which encourages fellows to dip their feet into the problems in their community, he hoped to collaborate with hostels in the Delhi area on reducing plastic usage. He thought that if he promoted the use of reusable bottles, the guests would take back the message to their communities. However, the global pandemic and lockdown that ensued made working with this group difficult.
Determined to keep going, Sameer pivoted to create a questionnaire for his friends and teachers, on aspects of reducing and reusing in their lives. He focused on the usage of plastic, water, and trash and offered sustainable solutions to help reduce consumption. He provided tips on small changes people could make around the house, such as using a lemon as a cleansing agent, or how the water of rice starch can be used to dye clothing.
Sameer also created an online page to post other tips for people who were interested but unaware of sustainable practices. He also interacted with other global movements for sustainability, namely the Fridays for Future campaign which encourages youth globally to strike on Fridays to draw attention to the climate crisis. By improving education, raising awareness and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and impact reduction, Sameer is ensuring SDG 13: Climate Action is achieved in small but resolute ways.
For Sameer, the Youth-n-Democracy fellowship was crucial in helping him understand ideas of society and change, and in broadening his vision of the world. It helped him understand how sustainability and working on issues of the environment are connected with social and economic ones. The fellowship gave him and the other fellows the freedom to have opinions and come up with innovative solutions, rooted in local realities which can lead to larger waves of change.
Similarly, while the Sustainable Development Goals are global, achieving the goals depends on local initiatives at the city and regional level. Local communities and stakeholders, who know the individual and collective needs and capacities best, are critical in implementing and realising the SDGs. One cannot undermine the role of youth in this process.
The United Nations determines the role of youth in achieving SDGs to be that of critical thinkers, changemakers, innovators, communicators, and leaders. The Youth-n-Democracy fellowship aims to facilitate the realisation of this potential in 20 youths. Through modules on Self and identity, the 20 fellows understood physical, mental, and emotional Self, gender and sexuality, identity issues, intersectionality, group identity, and more.
The sessions on society tackled issues of power, inequality, sustainable development, understanding democracy, and participatory research methodologies. These components led up to the Action component, in which fellows were to implement a social action project, aimed at addressing a critical issue in their community, and looking into ways of addressing an SDG at the local level.
Fellows chose topics across a broad spectrum, such as gender, child abuse, drug abuse, environment, education, and more. Aside from the social action projects, as fellows saw the pandemic unfold, they were also invigorated to take action to support marginalised communities.
A fellow, Prince Saxena, observed for the COVID-19 crisis widened inequalities and the state of migrant and urban low-income families, who, due to a lack of livelihood, were facing a lack of food and ways to commute back to their hometowns.
He recalls the night of the ‘Janta Curfew’ in India on March 22 2020 and how the consequent days were filled with news channels covering the helplessness of the migrant workers all over India. Upon researching the efforts being taken by the Bihar Government for these migrant workers, he found out that the state government was transferring Rs. 1,000 as an immediate relief to all those native of Bihar, who could provide their proof of residence in Bihar.
Seeing this as an opportunity, Prince took the initiative and set out to help residents of Bihar get back to their hometown. Prince was able to help four people procure proof of residence and benefit from the scheme.
Prince discovered that a nameless community with 22 families living on the fringes of a sewage canal and a hospital was in dire need of ration and essential supplies. This prompted him to start a crowdfunding initiative and secure enough ration for the community. Prince also made a YouTube video on his channel ‘Sarva Hitkarini Sangha’ highlighting the plight of the community, for maximum outreach.
Prince’s crowdfunding initiative had collected Rs. 15,000 which was used to provide ration to the same community and he worked with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of the area to ensure ration was available to them in the future also. Prince’s efforts didn’t stop here. When he heard from 20 migrant labourers from the Rupetha Panchayat in Rohtas District about the filthy and inhumane living conditions in the quarantine facility upon reaching their home state, he decided to intervene.
Equipped with the skills of communication and advocacy through the fellowship, Prince drafted a letter to the District Magistrate, highlighting the problems at the quarantine facility. Prompt action was taken, and the Block Development Officer arranged for food and supplies for those migrant workers in stipulated time. Prince’s efforts ensured access for these communities to adequate housing and essential services and accessible and sustainable transport systems for them, taking a step closer to achieving SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
The Youth-n-Democracy fellowship not only encourages youth to act locally towards achieving SDGs, but also enables them by facilitating the learning of tools for advocacy, participatory research, and society and democracy. The fellows, equipped with these skills, are able to work on creating ripples of sustainable local change.