This blog was written by Yohendran Nadar Arulthevan, a Youth Environment Living Labs (YELL) Intern at UNICEF Malaysia.
The climate crisis has always been an issue that I found hard to resonate with since it is often presented as a distant, unfixable problem and underscored with apocalyptic claims. I am also worried that certain communities fail to acknowledge their climate privilege at times since they are often untroubled by climate change, given their lack of personal experience of its most severe effects. Meanwhile, although they contributed the least to the climate crisis, the poor ultimately bear the brunt of its impacts. Given my formal education in economics, politics, and public administration, I also felt that there are more pressing social issues such as poverty, corruption, inequality, etc.
However, everything changed following the catastrophic 2021-2022 Malaysian Floods, which affected my home and locality and were declared a ‘once in a century’ disaster by government officials. My parents had to dip into their hard-earned savings to either repair or replace damaged appliances, furniture, and some parts of our home. Nevertheless, we still consider ourselves fortunate as we had the means to shoulder the expensive costs. Some of my less-privileged neighbours had to take out loans to fund these repair costs, while others chose to put off repairs altogether despite the health and safety hazards in their damaged homes.
From Climate Apathy to Climate Action
Unsurprisingly, many scientists, experts, and activists connected the occurrence of these floods to extreme weather attributed to climate change. It was only then that I slowly began to view climate change as an urgent critical social issue on par with poverty, inequality, and other issues I was passionate about. Similar to the experiences of some members of my local community, many other poor communities and nations throughout the world are unable to mitigate the impacts of climate change or recover from them. Hence, it became clear that I had to overcome my climate apathy if I wanted a safer and healthier future for myself and everyone around me.
Yet, I still felt uncertain about my role as a young adult hailing from the humble village of Kampung Raja Uda, Malaysia in addressing the present crisis due to my lack of experience and exposure to climate change and environmental issues. So, when I stumbled upon the Youth Environment Living Labs (YELL) internship offered by UNICEF Malaysia I decided to give it a shot, although it was an opportunity that required me to step out of my comfort zone.
Learning to YELL
YELL Fact: YELL is a partnership between young people and local climate and environmental organizations convened by UNDP and UNICEF Malaysia, supported by Amanah Lestari Alam (ALAM). YELL helps local youth find their voice in environmental action and amplifies ongoing sustainability efforts among young people. YELL works with its partners, including the local NGO and the Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia, to champion the climate agenda among the local youth.
At YELL, I seized various opportunities to engage with youth from different socio-economic backgrounds across Malaysia. Through my engagements, I observed that those passionate about climate change and environmental issues were often in similar shoes as me since they were unsure how to act on them too. Although some knew what to do and came up with innovative localised ideas, they still struggled to test and pilot them out in the real world as they lacked the experience, skills, and capital to do so. Besides that, I also noticed a significant disparity in awareness and knowledge of climate change between urban and rural youth across the different regions in Malaysia.
These takeaways made me appreciate YELL’s two-pronged approach to be both a facilitator and enabler for youth-led climate action. In 2021, YELL set up yell.my to act as a platform for bringing together diverse youth leaders and environmental organisations across Malaysia. It features a directory of local heroes and organisations working on the environment and climate agenda. The stories and experiences shared there served as both a source of inspiration and knowledge sharing for budding climate change and environmental champions.
Having understood what YELL is all about, my internship culminated with my involvement in the YELL Launch. On 2 August 2022, YELL had its inaugural launch to celebrate the work with its network partners since 2021 and to announce its new programmes for 2022-2024. My primary role was to lead the curation for the YELL Exhibition, which was an integral part of the launch event. It was an endeavour to decide what to showcase as all components of the exhibition had to tell YELL’s story and purpose holistically and coherently.
The exhibition primarily showcased various youth-led climate and environmental actions taken across Malaysia, stories, perspectives, and experiences on climate and the environment within the local and cultural context, and the diverse organisations that are part of the YELL network. It was very fulfilling to find out that the efforts of my team and I paid off when both the launch and exhibition received a very positive response from all our partners. The event also served as a pivotal avenue for our local youth to redraw attention to the climate emergency and the need for innovative solutions to tackle it through collaborative action.
Moving Forward: YELL and Beyond
With the official kick-off of YELL, the next order of business will be to roll out and continue developing its three pillars:
- Exploraction (Explore + Action): Seed-funding programme to support action-learning projects led by or with youth.
- Conservocation (Conservation + Vocation): Internship and skills development programme for youth and graduates hosted by network partners (to be launched in 2023).
- Resource Hub (yell.my): Growing and updating YELL’s website to maintain relevance by inviting partners to feature or co-curate content.
Nonetheless, I believe that what truly sets YELL apart from existing initiatives is its ingenuity in forming linkages across these three pillars to ultimately gather sufficient learning and data for policy and decision-making to strengthen the ecosystem for actors. Nevertheless, I hope YELL and the entire team remain focused on connecting the youth with organisations and other partners involved in localised climate change and environmental action across Malaysia and the surrounding region.
So, what’s next for me? Well, sadly, the publication of this blog post marks the official end of my internship with YELL. I currently plan on pursuing an advanced degree that would provide me with opportunities to explore my current interests in climate change, disaster risk reduction, and urban planning. Upon completing that, I aspire to have a career that allows me to participate in efforts to climate-proof our cities as we continue fighting the current climate crisis. Regardless of what the future holds for me or where it may bring me, I will remember to keep YELLing! #MariKitaYELL