Positive Change for the Environment led by Youth Action

by Nelia Lagura (ELP 2004), Philippines

When I started teaching Environmental Law at the University of San Carlos - College of Law in Cebu City, Philippines, I had to ask myself how I should be as a teacher: one who terrorizes, by forcing students to know the laws by heart or one who inspires. However, I chose the latter and I am very happy with the results.

To make my environmental law classes relevant, I required my students to come up with projects that can create a positive impact in society. Last semester, a group successfully partnered with the Visayas Electric Company and lobbied for the issuance of a municipal resolution in San Fernando, Cebu, encouraging the use of LED bulbs within their jurisdiction. Another group focused on water conservation. What touched me the most was the group, composed of seventeen 23-year old students, who went to clean one of dirtiest rivers in Cebu City.

The river clean-up seemed ordinary, but it was not. The area was extremely polluted with all types of garbage and the passage to the river was slippery and steep. However, the students successfully cleaned up the river, albeit not completely, for there was trash that just couldn’t be extracted by hand. The plates below show a remarkable change in the river. After the clean-up, one could feel that there is, after all, life flowing through the river.

Image iconnelia1_2.png The two photographs indicating the condition of the river before (left) and after the students’ assignment was completed (right).

However, it was not the fact that they cleaned the river in the best possible way that mattered most. It was their own reflection on the activity that struck a chord and made me re-realize that there is still hope.

The following is an extract from their report:

“After almost three hours of back-breaking work, the river looked like it was breathing fine. It no longer was as congested with garbage as it was the earlier morning. It was a day to be reckoned as the day that the General Maxilom River was treated to a vigorous scrubbing, leaving it cleaner and habitable.

Something profound changed in the lives of each and everyone in the group that day. In the diversity of life, a river had touched the sensitive nature inherent in each of us. It made us feel alive with the thought that it is never too late. Something can always be done for the better.”

What the students chose as a project had a tremendously positive impact - on the river, on themselves and on me. The experience of cleaning the river and the lessons that the students learned is evident in their report.

My students were inspired in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. They reinforced my faith that there are a lot of young people in the world who are just waiting to be inspired, encouraged and enlightened to drive positive change for the environment.