Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, and at the same time ranks fourth among Asian countries which produce the most plastic waste. In recent years, the “green” movement in Vietnam, which mostly led by young people, is growing at high speed. Youth groups and individuals throughout the country are raising their voice on the issues through many activities, from awareness raising blogs to cleaning-up events. However, they are facing many obstacles and challenges due to a lack of expertise, experience or financial support. Their efforts are often looked at as small, scattered and isolated with low impact, especially in the context of a developing country where the majority is heading to consumerism lifestyle with little concern for its environmental and climate impacts.
Since 2009, Live & Learn has been holding yearly youth forum under the name of Vietnam Youth and Sustainable Development Forum. The Forum aims to provide young environmental leaders with the knowledge and awareness that they need to connect climate change and sustainable development issues to their own lives and situations, the resources for them to take action in their communities, and a platform to raise their voices and share knowledge and experiences. These green change agents inspire, replicate and multiply their climate awareness and action to many other young people, communities and organizations nation-wide. Recognizing the importance of such activity, FES Vietnam has been supporting Live & Learn and co-organizing VYS from 2016 until now.
This year, the Forum was held for six days from 10th to 16th August 2018 at Triem Tay Gardens – an eco-resort owned by architect Bui Kien Quoc with the purpose of conserving the village and protecting it from erosion. More than 50 young environment leaders of different ages, regions and background were selected through a recruitment round to participate in the Forum. Each of them was working on his/her own environmental/climate project and initiative, just like a tree trying to clean the air and provide shades. The Forum was like a forest, where the trees were nourished and connected through many diverse activities including training, sharing, story-telling, field-visiting and networking.
“Understanding is the foundation of love”
In the era of climate change and environmental crisis, we often feel angry and tend to react strongly and immediately to whomever we think that cause the problems. However, such reactions may only create further trouble if we don’t understand the root causes of the issues and the motivations of different stakeholders. Understanding the specific problem as well as the big picture is the key to non-violent and sustainable solutions.
For the first four days of the forum, participants got to learn and discuss about the picture of sustainable development in the world and in Vietnam and basic knowledge on environmental pollution, biodiversity conservation, greener production and energy security. As the youth leaders work on different environmental issues with different approaches, the training sessions provided them with a bigger and more systematic pictures of what was going on, the interconnection of issues and value-based, holistic solutions. Training sessions were provided by experts or practitioners of the fields, and there was generous space for discussions and sharing from the participants’ perspectives. Training methods were diverse, ranging from story-telling, outdoor exercise to contemplative learning. Dry information and numbers are easy to be forgotten, but feelings and experiences are memorable.
Sharing is caring
There is a Vietnamese proverb which means “Your friends can teach you more than your teacher”. From a H’Mong young man starting his own essential oil cooperative to protect local herbs and local livelihood, to a young woman leading a group planting hundreds of trees in the city, the forum provides all participants space on stage to share about their work and initiatives on climate change and environment. They then received questions and feedbacks from other participants, which helped them to reflect and improve their ideas.
In addition, every evening, there is story-telling time where participants gather and listen to the stories of guest speakers who walk the talk: A former NGO worker who quit her job and became a famous blogger-farmer with her journey of learning to live peacefully with least environmental impacts; the founder of a natural soap brand who refuses to use any plastic or palm oil in her products; a former IT teacher well-known for his carefully hand-crafted grass and bamboo straws which can replace plastic straws, a famous folk musician who decided to open Vietnam Sustainable Space… The stories are a source of inspiration for young participants to have faith, courage and motivation to follow the path they choose.
Seeing is believing
Hoi An is a very special place in Vietnam, not only for its well-preserved old town, but also because there are many eco-conscious and sustainable business models around.
For half a day, the participants had a nice field-trip on bikes to visit Hoi An and discover places with eco-friendly features, including Vietnam Sustainable Space, Taboo Bamboo Workshop or U-Cafe Hoi An. It was not just a normal tour, though. They were divided into small groups in order to visit many different places, their missions were to observe the places, take note about what were the “green” and “grey” characteristics (for example: energy and water use, waste treatment, material sources, eco policies, etc), and interview the owner of the places about their stories and visions. After returning from the trip, the groups will prepare and present to others about the places they visit.
Three trees together make a high mountain
There is a proverb in Vietnam: “One tree alone can’t make a hill; three trees together make a high mountain”. Networking and bonding were an important part in the Forum. On the very first day, the participants were divided into 5 “families”, each has representatives from different ages, regions genders and backgrounds to ensure the group’s diversity. During 5 days of the forum, they worked together to set up the meeting room, organize warm-up games, tidy the room and serve meals for everybody. Through such activities, they got to know each other and formed natural friendships which can last even after they left the forum.
On the last day of the Forum, participants gathered according to their regions and discussed about how they can collaborate in the future to implement environmental activities in their local areas. Each member took turn to share about their own work on environment and climate change and the resources they can share with the group. After the sharing session, the regional group will develop future action plan of the region and share with the big group.
It turned out that there were a lot of non-monetary resources that they could share with others, from free venue for meeting to free accommodation for members from different cities/provinces. All participants were so excited and enthusiastic, looking forward to work together for a better future.
And the forest will flourish
“After this Forum, you will come back to your hometown, back to your daily life. The knowledge and numbers you learned here might be forgotten, but the values you cultivated and the friendships you built will remain. I hope you will continue to nourish such values and friendships, to make Vietnam a better place, together.”
The Forum ended in the morning of 16 August, with a lot of tears, hugs, handwritten letters and promises. But it was not goodbye. Right after that, groups of trees got together again for many activities: Visiting Heineken Hanoi Brewery Mill to learn about its sustainable practices, attending GreenID Vietnam’s training of trainers on sustainable energy, organizing a talk show on Zero-waste Lifestyle in Danang, and joining World Clean Up Day in Ho Chi Minh city… Looking at the pictures as a whole, we can see a lot of hope from these young people – the trees who are doing their best: being green.