Transforming the future through the ideas and power of young people

12, July 2019
Mayumi Sato
Mayumi Sato reflects on the power of youth and indigenous voices at the Global Landscapes Forum
Notes from the Field
Mayumi Sato speaks at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn

There is an old Japanese proverb that has reverberated in my head since childhood. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” underlies a common Japanese practice of conformity and collective thinking. 

Growing up, I was chastised for questioning practices, resisting norms, and for my directness. Often, I felt alone in my views. When I joined the professional world, I continued to have bouts of internal conflict. To me, society’s resistance to change and an unwillingness to understand young people’s perceptions and experiences of inequality seemed even more pronounced and regressive. I wondered whether there was something wrong with my desire to establish equal power relationships and justice in the world. 

My attendance at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn from 22 June to 23 June gave me a different picture of the world and hope. With support from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), I participated in the youth workshop entitled “A Just Future—Social Justice in a Changing Climate” as a Youth in Landscapes (YIL) representative. 

The workshop convened young people from all walks of life to explore youth engagement in rights-based approaches. I spoke with other youth leaders, indigenous activists, scholars and practitioners about RECOFTC’s rights-based approaches in relation to gender and social inclusion in forest landscapes in the Asia-Pacific. Our discussions revealed how young people from around the world are stimulating conversations that are changing understandings--and maybe our future. 

In our workshop, we gained insights from indigenous environmental advocates and practitioners about rights issues and learned how current global solutions are affecting community rights. We learned how to adopt a rights-based approach, and exchanged experiences on the challenges that we face when applying them. Despite coming from different places in the world, we formed strong bonds as we discussed struggles for our rights in our own communities and how to communicate our realities and ideas within those communities and beyond. Although the workshop was short and jam-packed, I left better equipped and more confident knowing that other young people share my commitment to achieving a just future. 

The author stands with two other individuals at the Global Landscapes Forum

The GLF, which followed the workshop, brought pleasant surprises. It began with inspirational remarks from senior government and international NGO bodies on the principles of inclusion and importance of resilient landscapes. It transitioned to a space of empowerment, where indigenous activists from the Cook Islands to the Brazilian Amazon spoke with an unapologetic candor and an empowering conviction. I saw firsthand how personal stories transcend experience and language. 

Artists and visionaries communicated their ideas through media platforms like I See a Different You, which rewrites narratives of African landscapes, stories and culture. They founded the project to challenge media misconceptions of post-Apartheid Soweto. In this wide space for self-representation, I felt encouraged to express my emotions and opinions truthfully.

Many participants expressed the idea that our conceptions of landscapes and our rights in them cannot be defined unilaterally. Throughout the sessions, I sensed a growing urgency to champion the rights of indigenous and young people to be heard and to participate in decision-making that will determine the kind of world they will live in. Based on my experience in the GLF, I am driven to find ways to continue and expand this conversation and to ignite it in our communities and countries. But how?

This question brings me back to the Japanese proverb and to reflect on how I have resisted traditional values that are so tied to my cultural identity and upbringing. I realized that an open mind and resistance to inequality and injustice are essential to resolving the world’s most challenging problems, and I am committed to being ‘a nail that sticks out,’ if that’s what it takes.    

The idea was best articulated by poet Aka Niviâna at the Forum: “When will we realize that the saviour we’re waiting for is us? We are the hope for the future because we are the future.”

I am grateful to Anna Bucci of the GLF for the opportunity to deliver the plenary speech as a Youth In Landscapes representative. I am grateful to Renata Koch Alvarenga of EmpoderaClima and Rosario Perez, an activist from Guam, for showing how young women can lead the fight for social and environmental justice. And to Desmond Alugnoa of Green Africa Youth Organization I offer thanks for the powerful words that inspired me to take up action and move beyond conversation.