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One Teen's Advice on How to Save the Earth: "You Just Need to Start"
It was seeing photos of the catastrophic wildfires that swept across Australia in 2019 and 2020 that convinced Juan, a 17-year-old environmental activist in Almería, Spain, that the time to act is now.
The fires "changed my way of thinking," he says. "They made me reflect on the situation in the world and how the climate crisis is affecting us and the environment."
Before the pandemic began, Juan had high hopes of creating a youth volunteer brigade to collect garbage that piles up in the fields near his hometown. For now, group projects are on hold to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the high schooler hasn't let that deter him from picking up a bag and becoming a one-man clean-up crew.
"I always enjoy the outdoors in my country, and it frustrates me to see it dirty and polluted. That's why I'm an activist," says Juan.
Almería participates in UNICEF's Child Friendly Cities initiative, which supports municipal governments in realizing the rights of children at the local level, including the right to grow up in an environment where they feel safe and secure, have access to basic services and clean air and where their voice is heard and matters. "If the authorities are interested in our well-being, they have to join us in the fight against climate change," Juan says.
Juan participates in the local council, raising awareness on the protection of the environment and setting a good example for others by rolling up his sleeves and making a difference. "The fields are full of plastic waste," he says. "I believe that we must promote practice in the fight for the environment. Because based on my experience, educational institutions give talks on climate change, but everything remains in theory."
"The recommendation that I give to someone that wants to be an activist is at the beginning, everything will look difficult," he says. "But you just need a plan and an idea and make it happen, because even though it seems impossible, everything is possible. You just need to start."
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Top photo: In Spain, 17-year-old environmental activist Juan cleans up the fields around his hometown, Almería. Seeing photos of the bush fires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 made him realize that talking about climate change is not enough. "I believe that we must promote practice in the fight for the environment," he says. All photos © Olmo Calvo for UNICEF