When Cyclone Idai hit Beira in Mozambique, 25-year-old Jessica Gimo and her family were terrified by the destruction it caused.
She recalls: “The walls in my grandmother’s house were destroyed, her windows and roof were blown away. My cousin was devastated by the floods and she had to stay in a tree for three days without water or food to escape the water.
There was no communication with many of my family members, my neighbours and my friends. Hospitals were destroyed, schools could not operate, and roads were impassable. It was terrible.”
In March and April 2019, Southern Africa was hit by two cyclones that left a trail of destruction in their path, and close to 2.2 million people in need of urgent assistance in Mozambique alone.
The Cyclone left a trail of destruction, damaging critical infrastructure and disrupting basic services. Schools that survived the destruction were used as shelter for displaced people.
Gimo, a trainee lawyer, shared her story at the second international Laudato Si’ interfaith conference held at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi and hosted by the Faith for Earth Initiative.
She was among young faith leaders who came from different interfaith partners, indigenous peoples and environmental organizations, and met under the theme, Laudato Si' generation: Young people caring for our common home.
As an environmental activist and volunteer, she believes that youth engagement in the aftermath of the cyclone would have reduced the devastation felt by communities.
“My grandmother tells me she experienced a cyclone when she was a small child, but this one was much worse,” she said.
“It is evident that climate change is exacerbating natural disasters. Back home in Beira, many people still lack information and are not aware of the impacts of climate change on our environment. It is up to the youth like me to inform our communities about what is happening to reduce the impacts of climate change.”
Gimo is a member of the Magis Network, a faith-based organization in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Motivated by her faith to care for and protect the environment, she seeks to encourage more young people to care for our common home—earth. “As volunteers with a deep interest in protecting our communities and environment, young people can combat climate change and its effects. The youth are at an advantage here,” she says. “As youth, we have access to social media and the internet, and we need to use it to our advantage. We can spread information, to change our habits, take care of the environment and mobilize our communities.”
“We need to focus our energies as youth because we are the future of the world. We need to share our experiences with each other. Youth in more developed regions can share useful information with the ones that have limited information such as those in less developed areas, making better use of social media.
“That way, information can reach young people in good time, and that benefits the whole community. This will also help older generations in understanding climate change and other environmental issues,” she said.
Iyad Abumoghli, Principal Coordinator of UNEP’s Faith for Earth Initiative, reiterated the key role young faith leaders play at all levels, especially in areas hit by disasters.
Since its resolution in 2008 on the “promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace,” the UN General Assembly has encouraged the promotion of dialogue among all cultures for promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue, tolerance and understanding.
In many countries, spiritual beliefs and religions are main drivers for cultural values, social inclusion, political engagement, and economic prosperity. Spiritual values are an important driver of change for more than 80 per cent of people living on earth.
“Faith organizations are usually the first to be seen in disaster areas providing immediate assistance, post-disaster support and resilience opportunities to local communities. Empowering youth networks is therefore critical, and one of the Faith for Earth Initiative’s key objectives,” he said.
The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges. Applications open in January. Stay tuned!