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Harnessing the power of youth

Azlan Othman

The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) is tapping into the power of the youth to tell stories from the field about biodiversity, its values, and the many ways to safeguard it.

Through its newest programme, the Young ASEAN Storytellers (YAS), the ACB is calling all ASEAN youth to showcase their skills and talents in storytelling as an essential part of the bid to highlight what life in harmony with nature would look like.

According to a press statement, 20 budding content creators and storytellers from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam will get first-hand experience in impactful storytelling for biodiversity conservation.

“We at the ACB believe that this generation is the torchbearer of our region’s future. We see that the youth of today are more driven to contribute to saving our planet, most especially in conserving the region’s rich natural and cultural heritage, and we are proud to be amplifying their voices through this programme,” said ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim.

Lim also underscored the importance of the youth’s role in connecting with others, given their knack for using innovative online platforms and their wide reach.

The statement adds, “These platforms and tools can cross boundaries and connect communities across the region to find solutions to the multiple environmental challenges we collectively face.”

ASEAN youth aged 18 to 35 who are eager to explore, passionate about nature, and are good storytellers are encouraged to be part of YAS.

Stories created through photography, writing, art, filmmaking, or other forms of creative storytelling and conveying ideas are welcome in this new programme, it was shared.

“Exciting opportunities await the young aspirants,” said the statement. “Aside from the grant that they will be receiving to produce their stories, they will undergo a series of learning sessions with biodiversity and storytelling experts, as they embark on an immersive trip to the region’s ‘creme of the crop’ protected areas–the ASEAN Heritage Parks.”

ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs) are protected areas of high conservation importance, preserving in total a complete spectrum of representative ecosystems of the ASEAN region.

These areas are established to generate greater awareness, pride, appreciation, enjoyment and conservation of ASEAN’s rich natural heritage, through a regional network of representative protected areas, and to generate greater collaboration among the ASEAN member states in preserving their shared natural heritage.

The AHPs that YAS will be visiting in each ASEAN member state include: Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park in Brunei Darussalam; Virachey National Park in Cambodia; Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia; Nam Ha National Protected Area in Laos; Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia; Inle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar; Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park in the Philippines; Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore; Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, Khao Sok National Park or Ao Phang Nga-Mu Ko Surin-Mu Ko Similan National Park in Thailand; and at Hoang Lien National Park in Vietnam.

The statement said that the YAS will then create compelling biodiversity stories that will be shared across media platforms. Applications are open until March 31 and results will be released in May.

The YAS programme is supported by the European Union (EU), through the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN (BCAMP) Project; and the ASEAN-Germany Cooperation in Biodiversity through the Second Phase of the Institutional Strengthening of the Biodiversity Sector in the ASEAN (ISB II) Project and the Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The ASEAN Youth Biodiversity Programme website provides additional information on the YAS programme, where it explains the reasoning behind the focus on storytelling. “Nature is disappearing. Fast. According to the IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019), the rate of biodiversity loss and species extinctions are accelerating, gravely impacting people around the world.”

The website adds, however, that “this story does not need to have a sad ending. We can still reverse the trend, stop unsustainable exploitation of species, restore ecosystems, shift away from fossil fuels and change the way we produce, process, transport, consume, and dispose food and commodities”.

“We need ‘transformative change’, a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

It also highlights that nature is an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration. “Pages after pages of statistics showing nature in decline will not be enough to persuade all of society to achieve transformative change. We need stories to inspire and catalyse action to protect our natural and cultural heritage. There is power in a good story—to build understanding, to move people to action, and to be remembered.

“Youth of today are powerful storytellers and changemakers with important stories to tell. Through a variety of platforms and mediums, young people have the power to connect, influence, and inspire”.