Ayesha Talreja tells a futuristic, post-apocalyptic story through the eyes of a child whose community is forced to give up farming for precarious work in a big city, but the tale is firmly rooted in real-world experience.
A Sad Farewell, which won second place in a Canada-wide creative writing competition designed to uplift the voices and experiences of Black and Indigenous youth and other youth of colour, harkens back to the 25-year-old’s two years teaching the children of migrant labourers in India.
She calls it a wake-up call joining those who have long warned the worst effects of climate change are hitting the most vulnerable people with the least amount of help sooner.
“I wrote this as an homage to those students and to honour their stories and also share them with a wider audience, because I recognize that this is a platform that I have, and I'm privileged and lucky to have that,” Talreja said in an interview.
The Our Climate, Our Stories project aims to engage and address the climate concerns of BIPOC communities specifically, according to Areej Riaz, director of climate programs at EnviroMuslims, one of three community groups involved in the People Planet Pages Book Club that put on the competition and worked with Climate Illustrated to create the book (PDF).
“We wanted to bring out climate stories and climate narratives and look at the lived experiences especially of youth ... because they are usually the ones that are the most ignored voices,” Riaz said ahead of the official launch of a digital book of the top 20 contributions this coming Saturday, World Environment Day.
That event will feature a panel involving the top three young writers (Talreja, 17-year-old first-place winner Tamjeed Nawaz, and third-place contributor Manjot Kaur Grewal) and a keynote from Anuradha Rao, who wrote One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet.
LJ Prabaharan volunteers on the political advocacy committee at the Community Climate Council, another of the project’s organizers, and says it can be difficult to reach older people of colour who may not speak English as well as younger generations or understand the importance and urgency of addressing climate change.
He says even though his parents understand the planet is getting hotter, and it's bad to be wasteful, they wouldn't understand the importance of stormwater management solutions, for example.
“It's bittersweet because you do see a lot of creative prowess coming out of these youth, but it's coming from a place of trauma and difficult experiences,” says Areej Riaz, director of climate programs at EnviroMuslims. #ClimateAngst #Youth
“It's really on us as people who speak both languages to act as a medium and get them more knowledgeable so that they do care, and we can work together as a community to better ourselves and get ourselves ready to take climate action,” he said.
Prabaharan recalls in a personal essay on food waste how he grew up in Sri Lanka with a mother who abhorred food waste on religious grounds and how he learned to over consume after coming to Canada.
After losing his job at a manufacturing facility for the construction and automotive industry when the pandemic hit, he has since changed his direction to focus almost entirely on sustainability and how to develop a community-led approach to it.
He now works for Credit Value Conservation on its sustainable neighbourhoods action program, which aims to improve the lives of residents of specific neighbourhoods while also addressing climate change challenges.
Riaz from EnviroMuslims said they plan to host a series of conversations starting June 14 with various youth groups around themes of environmental racism, climate anxiety and other topics, and are also hoping to develop a climate-focused literature festival.
She said she was surprised at the emotional maturity of the contributions, especially from the 15- to 17-year-olds, and contrasted their reality with the more carefree adolescence her generation enjoyed.
“It's bittersweet because you do see a lot of creative prowess coming out of these youth, but it's coming from a place of trauma and difficult experiences,” she said.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer