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Letters to the future: Eco-justice visions in South Africa

Letters to the future: Eco-justice visions in South Africa

South African high school students in Pietermaritzburg area participating in an eco-justice campaign inspired by the Y4EJ training. © Suwi Siwila

13 December 2012

By Susan Kim (*)

What will the world look like if we continue careening down a slide of eco-injustice? Ninth graders in South Africa have some idea. In a campaign organized by Suwi Siwila, the students pretended they were living in the future, writing a description to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A student named Est writes: “Dear Great-Grandson, A tree is an object with green leaves, and some trees provide fruit. I doubt you can even go outside because of global warming. I hope that is not the case.”

His friend Seb writes: “Dear Grandson, You may not experience the feeling of snow. Snow is cold and has a cotton-like feeling. When you touch it for too long, your hands go very cold. If you scoop a bit of snow in your hand and press it together to make it into a ball, you can throw it at people and play with it. Have you ever gone fishing? I am sure now that people might have fished everything out of the sea for food. I wish you could see what I see!”

Siwila, who is from the United Church of Zambia, introduced the “Future Letters” campaign to schools in the Pietermaritzburg area of South Africa after he participated in Youth for Eco-Justice (Y4EJ) training in 2011, jointly organized by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation.

The letters are a creative way to envision what's at stake generations from now, said Siwila. “This format does not limit the participants in terms of creativity and imagination but it makes them aware of some of the things we take for granted in our environment which future generations may not enjoy,” he said.

Siwila's colleague, Thea de Gruchy from United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, also attended the training and was determined to motivate her peers to think about eco-justice. She began a project entitled “Introducing eco-theology to the local context.”

De Gruchy has developed workshop materials for churches and schools. Her vision is that the South African Christian community may come to realize the obligation they, as people of faith, have toward working for climate justice.

“The goal of this project is to introduce teenagers who feel that faith is irrelevant in today’s society to eco-theology and show how faith is still of relevance. This project can mobilize those teens and young adults who already have a passionate commitment to their faith to take up issues like that of eco-justice,” she said.

De Gruchy is still determined to meet her goal of reaching at least 200 teenagers and young adults. “I want to inspire and motivate these young individuals to work within their communities for eco-justice and change their ideas about lifestyle, careers, Christianity, their community and society as well as justice and the poor,” she said.

Still another South African youth, Sean Kuryszczuk from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, took his inspiration from the training out to the garden. Securing small plots of land in urban areas, including the grounds of churches, he is training young people to tend small organic gardens. “We got land in the city to do ‘guerrilla gardening’, promoting living locally,” he said. “We started a garden club with volunteers, and taught them about organic pesticides and how to create a small garden.”

Words of advice from South African youth
Are you planning to advocate for eco-justice in your community? Below, some pearls of wisdom from South Africa:

Suwi Siwila: “Sometimes young people appreciate practical tips – like suggesting you unplug your cell phone charger from the wall when you're not using it. When I looked into this, I found a charger that automatically cuts off power when you remove your cell phone.”

Thea de Gruchy: “It's particularly inspiring to a group when you allow room for the group to come up with ideas of projects that they can implement within their own community.”

Sean Kuryszczuk: “Trying a garden project worked out well because the young not only learn about eco-justice, they taste the results”, said an enthusiastic Sean. “The tomatoes were soooo good,” he raved on Facebook.

This feature article is part of a series that provides information about the follow-up initiatives of the Youth for Eco-Justice participants.

(*) Susan Kim is a freelance writer from Laurel, Maryland, United States.

Read also:

Nigerian youth adopt eco-justice for urban neighbourhoods (WCC feature article of 28 November 2012)

In Myanmar, eco-justice flourishes even in challenging settings (WCC feature article of 31 October 2012)

40 days – no emissions? Swedish urbanite lives the concept (WCC feature article of 14 August 2012)

Rio+20 disappointment impassions youth to pursue local eco-justice (WCC feature article of 16 July 2012)

The LWF and Youth for Eco-Justice

More information on the WCC and eco-justice