A teenage global activist fights for her generation

Illustration by Kailey Whitman

Illustration by Kailey Whitman

The Right to a Future

essay by Rekha Dhillon-Richardson

I was raised along the stunning coastline of British Columbia, Canada, where I developed a deep respect for the natural world. I can remember many days spent hiking up mountains, exploring the coastal tide-pools full of life and being amazed by Earth’s wonders. 

As a young person, I never could have imagined that six years later, at the age of 13, I would be standing before the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland, speaking on behalf of children everywhere about how pressing the matter of climate change is to the successful implementation of children’s human rights.

An internship at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental organization, and Justice for Girls, a Vancouver-based organization centered on girl advocacy and leadership, started my adventure when I drafted a written submission about this issue that they put forward on my behalf. 

I was one of the only youths present, which really got me thinking about the role of youth in huge environmental issues. My generation and those that follow will be the ones who are most affected by our rapidly evolving world, so we should have a legitimate and respected voice in change. I asked myself, “Why aren’t kids given more of an opportunity to voice their opinions regarding issues that deeply affect them?” 

My experience at the United Nations inspired me to take action, to do something. With the help and support of the Venture Incubator program in the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at SCH Academy, my school, I organized the first Girls Climate Summit in 2015. The mission of the summit is to strengthen the knowledge and leadership skills of young women who are passionate about the environment. Over the course of the event, middle and high school girls from the Philadelphia region came together to talk about specific climate issues and to cultivate leadership skills that would enable them to become environmental change makers in their own communities. It was an absolutely incredible and surreal experience to see my idea, once only a dream, come to reality. The second annual Girls Climate Summit this year was attended by over 70 participants from over 16 different schools in the greater Philadelphia area. 

It is both vital and urgent that young people get involved in climate issues, because we can bring a fresh, unique view that adults don’t always see. Our creativity and perspective is limitless, helping to bridge the gap between what was thought to be impossible and the possible.

The Girls Climate Summit has taught me that young people have the ability and passion to make an incredible difference in their communities’ environment. We have the power to create and sustain a movement. 

It’s imperative that youth work together to imagine a different kind of world where balance is restored: A cleaner, healthier, more respectful place for the future generations that follow. And we need to bring this world into existence right now. This is the moment to stand and rise up. To be bold and to fight for what we believe is just for all people across the globe, not just those with access and privilege. 

I will close simply by saying this: I encourage young people to use their voices. Organize. Educate. Participate. The world needs to hear from us.

Rekha Dhillon-Richardson is a junior at SCH Academy and the founder of the Girls Climate Summit.