For Ana Giovanetti, safety for chimpanzees is symbiotic with security for people.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Tell us about your work.

In 2019, I was a project manager in charge of volunteers at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia for Africa Impact, bringing paying volunteers from the Global North to work at a chimpanzee rehabilitation and conservation refuge. Volunteers pay a substantial fee to work with the animals and help in the veterinary clinic, assist with scientific research, animal husbandry and work in the local community.

Conservation projects always begin with local people, and their ongoing support is crucial, so the fees also support health and education services for the 300 villagers living near the refuge. Volunteers also teach English or conservation at the elementary school, help at the health clinic, repair infrastructure or simply visit with the local people.

Ana Giovanetti with Barbara Sakala, project co-ordinator, and local teenage girls at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, Zambia. Photo by Ulrika Beverley

How does interacting with the local people affect the volunteers?

There were certainly some challenging conversations. For example, the local economy and culture are centred around raising cattle. In the Global South, the production of cattle is often a proximate cause of wildlife habitat destruction. Encouraging the consumption of meat with its high carbon and ecological footprint while protecting chimpanzees from the impacts of habitat destruction and climate change felt dissonant to many volunteers and some were perturbed by the way the cattle were treated.

I encouraged them to reflect on how meat is produced and processed in their home countries, which for the most part, although often more hidden, is not so very different. As they watched or worked alongside the women in the fields in the hot sun, taught or played with the children or helped a farmer, they often came to see the choices to be vegetarian or vegan are not available to so many in Africa. The changes we must implement in the Global North are not appropriately imposed on the South.

Ana Giovanetti with local Maasai children in Maasai Mara, Kenya, during her master’s research. Photo by Dr. Martin Wilkie

How does what you learned there help you in your current work in Canada?

For Ana Giovanetti, safety for chimpanzees is symbiotic with security for people. #YouthClimateAction

I am now the program director of Réseau Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) and also work for Eco Executive Director to provide strategic planning, fundraising and capacity-building support for two other environmental not-for-profits. In both cases, I must facilitate conversations between people with differing values and priorities.

For example, at RCEN, I help grassroots organizations work together to get funding from the federal government for assessing the environmental impacts of proposed developments on their communities. Often the groups have differing capacities and areas of focus, and the federal government has its own lens on each situation. My experience in Africa helped me learn to respect different perspectives and to take time to discern good questions rather than feeling that I must have the answers.

Ana Giovanetti at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, Zambia, in front of a sign by the chimpanzee forest enclosures. Photo by Barbara Sakala

How did you come to work in conservation in Africa?

I came to Canada when I was eight in 2001 from a small rural city in Argentina. My parents cared a lot about the environment and while they did not have the same knowledge or sensitivity as those who grew up in Canada, they took me seriously when I brought ideas about reducing waste and recycling home from school.

When I started university, it did not alarm them that I did not yet have clear goals. They were very supportive of the twists and turns in my life and always encouraged me to take the next big step. It was quite remarkable that they encouraged me, their youngest child and only daughter, to go off by myself to sub-Saharan Africa. Their confidence in me has lifted me up.

What worries you?

The climate predictions are so dire and the urgency is so immediate. I know people in the Global South who are already suffering, but it is coming to us, too. I ask if I want to bring a child of my own into this world. But I have decided this would amount to closing the door to hope, and I am not going to do that.

Everywhere I turn, there are smart, innovative people passionately committed not just to keeping the planet habitable for humans, but also to making life better for us and the animals with whom we share ecosystems. I am worried, but I am also hopeful. It is possible to be both.

Ana Giovanetti on the floodplains at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, Zambia. Photo by Nora Slania

What advice might you have for other young people?

Build relationships. Be pleasant to work with. Learn from those currently in leadership. Yes, you will do it your way and differently, but for now, throw yourself in. Your life will take unexpected twists and turns, but relationships will pull you through to new and interesting opportunities.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Don’t assume that we do this work simply out of a sense of moral obligation or the goodness of our hearts. Make sure you provide younger people with real opportunities. That means paying decent wages and providing secure working conditions so we can make our voices heard.