We are change
Change begins in many ways, but always at its core there is a spark, a moment of illumination when an individual or group sees a vision of the way that the world can be, rather than the way it is. An imperceptible, but seismic shift, which enables us to see the world as God sees it.
On 26th September delegates from the Jesuit and Associate schools came together at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick for the Jesuit Missions We are Change Conference, the first in what hopes to become an annual event. The purpose of the day was to provide information and inspiration, statistics and skills aimed at helping young people better understand the climate crisis and develop the expertise to become agents of change.
In his welcome, Richard Greenwood, Jesuit Missions Outreach and Communications Manager spoke of the vital role that young people, like Greta Thunberg have been playing in calling for decisive action on climate change and he challenged those gathered to use what they learned during the conference to produce mini-manifestos to take back into their schools, practical ways individually and collectively to take action.
The keynote speaker was Fr Leonard Chiti SJ, Provincial of the Zambia-Malawi Province. In his talk, The Future of Food in Zambia: A Climate Change Warning, Fr Chiti spoke of how 20th century farming techniques with their intensive use of chemicals and water have depleted nutrients in the land. He also discussed the role governments and multinational corporations can play in perpetuating agricultural techniques which are no longer sustainable. Changing rainfall patterns which have resulted from climate change are further impeding the ability of farmers in Zambia to feed their families. The model of agriculture in Zambia holds a stark warning for farmers in the developed world. New environmentally aware sustainable strategies are needed to address this area of growing concern. Fr Chiti also looked at how the adaptation of traditional technology is providing answers to 21st century energy challenges.
The conference workshops focused on both skills and strategies for action. Dr Shannon Philip of Jesuit Missions considered Caring for our Common Home through a discussion-based format, challenging students to gain a better grasp of the climate crisis. Philippa Bonella, formerly SCIAF’s Head of Communications and Education, looked at practical approaches to advocacy and Pat Coyle, Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Ireland discussed Making the Most of the Media by looking at ways of articulating the social justice and climate change message through a variety of media.
The afternoon also saw a weblink with Fr Makasa Chikwamo SJ, the Director of the Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development in Kasungu, Malawi. Fr Chikwamo shared information with the delegates about the work of the Centre which seeks to promote ecological justice and sustainable livelihoods through food security and nutrition, water and sanitation and the efficient use of renewable energies.
The Plenary gave the delegates the opportunity to work in their school groups to develop mini manifestos to set some practical next steps for the change that they want to see in their school, community, and world. As one delegate noted, the speakers made delegates realise that climate change is now!
Students from Wimbledon college suggested that each student calculate their carbon footprint then set targets to reduce it, while those from St Ignatius College, Enfield were shocked by the 45 litres of water they could save by having 4 minute showers and planned to share this amongst other students at their college.
As Pope Francis states so clearly in Laudato Si, climate change is impacting now on the world’s most marginalised. Pope Francis reminds us that, ‘Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.’ Delegates who attended the We are Change Conference hope to become agents of change to care for our common home.