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Discover two more inspirational young people in the second blog from our new Environmental journey

Date Created: 8th Mar 2022

A person's hand wearing a blue rubber glove encircles a sapling emerging from fresh earth.

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As our commitment to working by more sustainable practices and researching the topic of environmentalism continues, so does our new series of blogs. Hopefully you’ll know from our last piece about Grace and Harry’s Environmental project, and how we’re continuing to look at young people leading the way. If not, why not check it out before reading up on our next two profiles below?  

Xiye Bastida – 19, San Pedro Tutlepec, Mexico/New York City, U.S. 

Xiye Bastida wear a white strappy top with her hair down, and smiles at the camera, against a blurred backdrop of greenery.

Some young climate campaigners fortunately haven’t experienced the effects first-hand, and others have witnessed their home being under attack from the effects of climate change, some even having to move because of it. Xiye Bastida is one such young person, who hails from San Pedro Tutlepec, southwest of Mexico City, but her family was forced to fast-track their planned move to NYC in 2015, after their area suffered climate-related issues, caused by a devastating drought.  

She is a member of the Indigenous Mexican Otomi-Toltec people, and a strong belief in their culture is ‘we all take care of the earth, because the earth takes care of us.’ Sadly, it’s become apparent that because of the nature of communities’ locations, Indigenous people often bear the brunt of the greed of governments and corporations, despite over 80% of the world’s biodiversity being found in Indigenous locations. She states that “everything about my upbringing taught me to be that voice of unity and balance.” 

There was a period of adjustment to life in NYC, but after working incredibly hard, Xiye gained a place at the sought-after Beacon public school in Hell’s Kitchen. After finding her feet there, she’s founded new initiatives and spread her message. At the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and 2018 (and being awarded the ‘Spirit of the UN’ award at the latter), and serving on the People’s Climate Movement committee. She also organised the New York branch of Fridays for Future, after welcoming jointly welcoming Greta Thunberg to the UN General Assembly alongside Alexandria Villaseñor (a name you may recognise from our last blog.) She’s now studying Environmental Economics and Sustainable Development in Latin America at Columbia University, and has delivered TED talks, AND founded the Re-Earth Initiative! 

Another high-profile moment was being interviewed for Vogue, and said “what would we be doing if we didn’t have to deal with injustices?” “Our potential is not realised because we are fixing things that are broken.” It’s clear that she has a bright future ahead of her – as climate activist and writer Bill McKibben said: “might be a good idea to put [her] in charge of a continent or two”. 

[Phrase used from the One Earth website’s Climate Hero profile on Xiye, 1st and 3rd quotes from the GreenBiz website piece ‘Indigenous youth leader Xiye Bastida invites everyone to share their gifts’, 2nd quote from the Vogue piece ‘How Xiye Bastida Became a Leader in the Climate Fight’. Photo credit to Xiye’s Twitter account.] 

Helena Gualinga – 20, Kichwa Sarayaku, Pastaza, Ecuador/Finland 

Helena Gualinga wears a white top with her hair down and wearing black flower earrings, and sits on a white chair while speaking into an extended microphone.

Helena is another strong example of the very determined and remarkable young women we’re discovering in our research. Like others, her beliefs and values are rooted in those of an Indigenous community – the Sarayaku of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and from being surrounded by powerful women. An early experience that later made a profound impression on her was the incursion of an oil company onto their land, in 2002. She states “it was always part of my life that people were fighting for our communities. This was normal for me, that someone was trying to take our home from us.” Her community has succeeded in historic legal fights however, for example in 2012 against the government at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.  

The strongest part of her identity is being her proud Indigenous status, but she unites with a variety of climate activists to make her voice heard (although she doesn’t describe herself as an activist, but says it’s just something her community does.) She was even mentioned by Greta Thunberg at the December 2019 COP summit; when the Swedish activist impassioned that there should be much more inclusivity of Indigenous peoples within the campaigning community.  

Because of the careless, disrespectful and dangerous way Indigenous communities like Helena’s have been targeted (often with government backing), she mainly focuses on fossil fuel companies in her campaigning. She now does this through the creation of Polluters Out, a network of young people that although is now large and worldwide, comprised of just 150 members at its commencement in 2020. They now partner with organisations that stretch across 40 countries. The aim is simple – to drive all companies and enterprises that pump harmful substances into our earth (particularly Indigenous communities) out of the areas, and ultimately to cease in existence.  

Helena’s most recent accomplishment was speaking at COP26 in Glasgow, (which she could only do once she crossed the River Bobonazo in a canoe to leave the Amazon!) Sadly, floods and their devastating effects are now an issue in Sarayaku in addition to the ethical crimes of oil companies, so this was a top focus. She admits great disappointment at the lack of definitive outcomes from COP26, but says “I think we need to make sure Cop isn’t what decides our future now and that we need to keep working outside of Cop for the changes which will help us all.” She currently resides in Finland, and after taking a gap year, will study at University there. Follow her on Twitter @SumakHelena, on Instagram @helenagualinga and just search her name on Facebook! 

[1st quote credit to the Refinery29 ‘For the Future’ spotlight piece on Helena, 2nd quote from the Sunday Post piece on COP26 and Helena’s presence there. Photo credit to Helena’s Twitter account.] 

If you’re curious about our Environmental project as a whole, follow the link to see our new page, where you’ll find info on why we’re passionate about this, how it ties in to our passion for helping young people, and the journey we’re embarking on. You can also search ‘Environmental blogs’ to find everything tagged in that category!


Environmental blogs Environmental Issues young people Young people's blogs

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