Imaginative Learning with the Environmental Youth Alliance: A Program Story

(Photo: Seed Generation Youth pose in the salmon shaped garden bed they created, with guest facilitator, Indigenous Elder and medicinal plant expert, Lori Snyder.)

“What makes me really happy is I now have more hope; I now know that I can take care of nature even when you are in the city. The [EYA] youth garden is in the middle of the city and it changes my perspective knowing that it is possible to have nature in the city no matter how many walls are around you.”

By David Palmer (Philanthropy Officer at the Environmental Youth Alliance)

Alanza (name changed) is 17 years old, an Indigenous Brazilian and recent immigrant to Metro Vancouver. Alanza participated in our first Seed Generation Project this spring; a collaboration with Red Fox Society that brought together diverse youth from Indigenous, recent immigrant and LGBTQ2 communities to create a food and medicine garden, explore decolonization and develop leadership skills. Youth learned traditional land stewardship practices from Elders, created urban habitat for wildlife and went on a wilderness camping trip.

“I really liked the participation of the Elders throughout the whole program. It was a way of putting us in contact with the elements and teaching the youth to value what we are doing here, and bring spiritual meaning to what we are doing here. It brought more sensitivity and a different perspective on taking care of the land.

EYA’s programs use nature as a tool for experiential learning and healthy adolescent development. Youth in our programs often lack access to the natural world; something we believe is essential for developing imagination, curiosity, and positive mental health!

“I think that learning outside is the best way to learn – by observing and using our senses. As an Indigenous person I think that we are following the steps of our ancestors because everything they teach us is through observing nature, touching and seeing and listening so I think it’s very important to always change the manner of learning.”

“During the programs I had exams and homework but coming here helped me de-stress and get into the earth. Nature is something that we have in common, even if you think you are so different from someone the environment is what brings you together”.

Alanza sums up EYA’s approach to youth-led environmental conservation: “if we are taking care of the land we are taking care of human beings as well”.

EYA’s focus on connecting youth to their physical environment operates as a natural process to promote ecological leadership and “stimulate a sense of agency.” EYA has intentionally created a space where youth feel that they are a part of and are authentically involved in a real-world process. This cognitive tool is profound in helping older students who are making sense of the world philosophically and theoretically and also produces a sense of social responsibility when youth understand the role they play in the broader network of the world.

Included below are some photos of other community-based initiatives EYA has led:

Youth participants in our Native Plants for Birds program
Youth harvest, process and plant the seeds of native plants and shrubs that provide food, shelter and habitat for birds, invertebrate and other wildlife. Once the plants have grown, youth use them to create wildlife habitat in urban green spaces. In the Spring, youth give away over 1,500 youth-grown plants at public outreach events; this offers a chance to improve communication skills, share their new skills and knowledge and promote the environmental benefits of native plant gardening.
Evidence of birds nesting in EYA’s Youth Garden in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Wendel is an EYA program alumni and the newest member of our Youth Habitat Crew; a paid summer internship where youth gain employable skills in horticulture, plant nursery management and youth facilitation.

About the Environmental Youth Alliance

The Environmental Youth Alliance is a non-profit charity founded in 1989 that connects youth at risk with nature, community and skills and benefit their lives and steward the environment. Over the past 30 years, EYA has grown and evolved — yet always stayed true to our roots as Canada’s first youth-led environmental conservation organization.

Today, EYA is a well-established local charity with a mandate to engage youth in hands-on projects to create wildlife habitat and strengthen biodiversity in highly-urbanized neighbourhoods in the City of Vancouver. EYA’s vision is that every young person experiences the transformative power of nature, creating a deep love for the natural world and motivating youth to take action to protect and conserve biodiversity.

Since their inception EYA has helped tens of thousands of young people lead impactful biodiversity-related projects in Vancouver, develop conservation skills while protecting, restoring, and monitoring urban habitats. For example, EYA has an established greenhouse and native plant nursery in the Downtown Eastside, propagating and distributing 1,500 plants and shrubs each year to create bird and insect supporting habitat in the city.

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