Youth engagement in eco-justice is expanding in scope and sophistication, says Marcelo Leites, Latin American and Caribbean regional secretary for the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF).

Leites, an Uruguayan now living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who serves on the World Council of Churches (WCC) climate change working group, speaks from experience. He notes that what began as a regional WSCF call for photos by youth depicting water challenges in their country grew into a travelling photo exhibit, then a set of accompanying workshops and is now an international program with specific goals and plans.  

The photo exhibit and workshops have been developed in several Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay. The exhibit was also presented at the People’s Summit in Rio+20 and Ecumenical Centre Agape in Italy earlier this year.

The workshops equip youth for eco-justice advocacy by explaining how to relate ecology and economy, how to engage partners from civil society organizations and how to frame and pursue their advocacy projects for natural-resource preservation and other forms of eco-justice.

A highlight was utilizing the project last summer at Rio+20, the United Nations-sponsored international conference on sustainable development. Two dozen students from the regional and international WSCF network and the Regional Ecumenical Centre for Advocacy and Service (CREAS) participated.

“It was important because of the personal encounters we had at Rio+20, because we presented the project at the People’s Summit there and because we were able to frame concrete plans to follow up from there,” Leites said.

The Youth and Environmental Justice program, a 22-month project initiated in Latin America by the WSCF and CREAS, is also part of a larger WSCF Global Eco-Justice strategy, encompassing the six WSCF regions around the world. The project has brought the regions together and encouraged solidarity among local groups working to overcoming their isolation from one another.

Students in his region are excited by these initiatives and, despite a lack of funds, are building toward larger-scale advocacy, working up to the Latin American Water Tribunal meeting this fall in Argentina.