My Hero interviewed a student working with YouthCaN in New York. She is an 18-year-old high school senior and has participated in YouthCaN since 2001. Here she talks about her experience with YouthCaN, what an event is really like, and she encourages students and teachers to participate...
How did you become involved with YouthCaN?
[I became involved] through an after-school program held at Van Courtlandt Park called The New Youth Conservationists (NYC) that I was part of for two years. As an environmental program that sought to educate others about the environment, NYC used to present a workshop annually at the YouthCaN conference. I was asked by NYC to attend a YouthCaN (YC) meeting and that drew me in.
How did you become involved with iEARN?
The executive director of iEARN-USA, Ed Gragert, is a YouthCaNer--he is one of the adult advisors for the youth that are part of YouthCaN. He introduced me to the iEARN network.
Do you help in the planning/preparation of YouthCaN?
As an active youth in YC, I help to the plan the entire conference--to orchestrate the time schedule and to plan the youth-run opening and closing years. In the previous past two years I was an MC, a youth-speaker who welcomed the participants in the opening ceremony and bid them farewell in the closing ceremony. For each YC conference, we spend days preparing the museum and ourselves for the conference and all have "stuffing parties" in which we stuff around 2000 envelopes with information about the upcoming YouthCaN Conference.
How much work goes into planning this event?
A lot of work goes into the event, especially when there is a shortage of youth. We often spend weekends before the event preparing for it.
How do you feel about YouthCaN?
YouthCaN is wonderful in developing leadership qualities. Each meeting is run by a youth and the youth primarily organize the agenda for each meeting. It is also a great setting for youth and adults to interact as equals, not as teachers and students or other similar relationships. YouthCaN is also extremely important in linking environmental youth and letting them know that they are not the only ones who care about the environment. This is especially true for youth in countries where there is not much concern about the environment and the youth may feel like an outsider because they care about the environment. YouthCaN is also a really fun event. Every meeting always brightens my day.
What takes place at a YouthCaN event?
The YC Conference is commenced by the opening ceremony in which youth present the theme of the conference. Each year a theme and a corresponding logo is designed and voted by youth. The theme serves as a guideline for the YC Conference, not as a strict regulator. That is to say that the activities that go on during the YC Conference do not necessarily have to adhere to the theme, they can diverge and ramify into topics that are entirely unrelated to the theme. The only requirement for the activities is that they have to be youth-run, related to the environment and educational.
The activities of the YC conference come in two forms: tables and workshops. Approximately 30 workshops allow youth groups (both international and national) to present to the world what environmental issue they have been working on and/or their environmental concerns. Tables are similar to workshops, except the information is not orally presented in a cohesive 45 minute time-period, but visually laid out on the table. The tabler (the person manning the table) often offers additional information and explains the information set out on the table.
Furthermore, as there are YC Conferences held simultaneously throughout the world (in Lebanon, Australia, Japan and Russia, to name a few sites), we try to get a glimpse of their conferences through videoconferencing. Thus, at set times during the day we are able to see the YC Conference in another country.
How do you think students and teachers can benefit from attending a YouthCaN conference or by participating with it?
1)[They can achieve] a greater understanding of the power of youth and that it's not "hocus pocus" when we say that youth can make a difference in this world.
2) Teachers learn different ways to integrate fun and learning, making education fun for their students.
3) Youth learn about the various environmental groups and have the opportunity to join them, and thus can broaden their horizon.
4) Teachers gain a greater respect for youth [and vice versa].
What would you tell other students about YouthCaN? Would you recommend it to your friends?
I would definitely recommend this event to my friends. But I would [also tell] them about the fact that there are international students whose cultures need to be respected and who have trouble understanding English [so they know to be mindful of cultural differences].
What do you think makes this year’s  youthCaN special/unique?
For the past two or three years, the conference site in the American Museum of Natural History (in NYC)--the Hall of Ocean Life (with the big whale)--has been closed for renovation. Thus, we had to shift our conference to other, oftentimes less convenient places and it [at times] caused problems. This year we have regained our site and I am excited for I have never attended a YC Conference in the Hall of Ocean Life.
What’s the best part about YouthCaN?
The people [are] very kind and fun-loving. There is a real sense of community among YC. The best part about this global community is that it is not exclusive, any youth of any type is welcomed and can easily join. We are a community, NOT a clique.