Believing and Channeling Impatience

    By Pooja Tilvawala

Imagine a world where youth are not only encouraged to brainstorm solutions to environmental issues, but are actively educated and empowered to implement them. Imagine a country where parents and teachers, by and large, have the training and tools to teach youth about the relationship and interactions between humans and nature. Imagine an America where political leaders not only listen to youth, but work with them to drive forward meaningful lifestyle and policy changes. Imagine if every school board and city council in the United States reserved seats at the table for youth to participate regularly in meetings and voice the concerns of their age group. In their communities, imagine if youth had the means to connect with their peers to carry out environmental projects and share their stories and lessons learned. This is a world I want to live in, one where youth voices are highly valued in the democratic process and youth have the support they need to feel educated, empowered, and activated, especially in the climate space. A lot of good work is already happening, but I believe our society can do better for today’s youth and future generations.

My name is Pooja Tilvawala and I grew up in a diverse suburb of Philadelphia. My family and I immigrated to America to fulfill the American Dream, and although America is by no means perfect, it truly has been the land of opportunity for us. During my childhood I lived in a lively apartment complex with mostly low- and middle-income black and white Americans, and immigrants from Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. I loved growing up there, a place that allowed me to learn about different cultures and understand people from various backgrounds. And organizations, like the Young Women’s Christian Association of Bucks County, that were so kind and involved with our neighborhood taught me the value of community service and uplifting those in need. As we settled into middle-class life, we moved into a house in a neighborhood which is mostly white and Asian (an indicator of some historic problems). After some years, I left to attend American University in the exciting Washington, DC.

In 2018, I graduated from American University with a BS in Economics and a BA in International Studies, with a focus on Justice, Ethics, and Human Rights and a regional focus on South Asia. It was during college that I learned that I care most about sustainable international development and youth engagement. I then worked at The Meridian Institute, also in Washington, DC, for one and a half years. It was a tremendous experience that gave me a listening seat at tables with CEOs, corporate sustainability officers, founders of NGOs, U.S. congressional members, and experts in the environmental space. This experience taught me ways to help people with differing perspectives understand each other and move toward end goals which better our planet. However, it also showed me just how white and male-leaning the environmental space is, especially at the top levels, which was simultaneously sad and motivating. Even at times when I have felt out of place, I knew I belonged and that others like me belong as well. Still, it was extremely frustrating each time someone explained the homogeneity of their organization by sharing they could not find any qualified people of color for certain roles. Often, the actual problem was their limited networks. I am in the environmental space because this is where I want to make an impact during my life, and I am more motivated than ever to help people from marginalized communities rise with me, especially by strengthening our networks.

Since childhood, I have been a curious person, questioning what is and envisioning what could be. Many marginalized communities share an impatience for change, for a better life, and rightfully so. There is no excuse for making people wait for clean air, wait for clean water, wait for nutritional food, wait for affordable healthcare, wait for fairness. I see this impatience as a recognition of the urgency of ridding of these injustices. The time is now to act on human rights. The time is now to act on climate justice. The time to act is now, period. What does this have to do with me and my work with the Kennebunkport Climate Initiative (KCI)? KCI, although based in mostly homogenous Maine, shares this impatience and feels this urgency to work with youth and marginalized communities to elevate their voices and protect our under-valued earth together. I have a plan to help educate, empower, and activate youth in the climate space, and KCI is the reason why I have the honor and privilege to work on it full time.

While working at Meridian, after hours, I would design my plan to address what I see as barriers to participation and retention of youth in the climate space. I wanted to work on my plan full time but did not know where to find the resources to make that transition. In September, I applied for KCI’s Climate Career, and when selected for this rare opportunity, I knew someone believed in me and that my vision was no longer just a distant dream. Knowing that someone believes in you and backs that up with financial support and mentorship, is a humbling and wholesome feeling; I cried when I found out I was selected because I know this is the start of something special. There will be highs and lows throughout this process, but I am most excited to learn and grow with KCI by my side, and hopefully together, we can help make life better for youth and communities vulnerable to climate change.

Thank you to my family, friends, and mentors for getting me to this point in my life and thank you to KCI for believing in me.

I hope you, the reader, now know me a little bit better, and continue to follow me on my KCI Climate Career journey. Stay tuned for blog #2, where I will discuss my climate action plan.