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The Right To Not Only Speak, But To Be Heard

Written by Fallon Hayes, UNA-Canada Service Corps delegate

I just want to start this blog post by stating how grateful I am to the Canadian government for investing in youth development programs like the Canadian Service Corps. My name is Fallon Hayes and I was chosen to represent Canada on the international stage of the 11th Geneva forum as a member of the United Nations Association in Canada Service Corps. The 11th Geneva forum, stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, gathers environmental experts from around the world who specialize in many topics including: sustainable tourism, the rights of nature, citizen science and inclusive pedagogy. My mission for this forum was to ensure that topics of sustainable agriculture and utilisation of ancestral knowledge in science, were brought into discussions - this proved to be a rather unique perspective that enticed many fellow attendees.

My time at the Geneva Forum was a beautiful whirlwind of anticipation, surprise and empowerment. Each day I would walk through the United Nations European headquarters feeling humbled, inspired and in awe all at once. As we, the four members of the Canadian delegation, traversed these grandiose halls we each discussed what brought us here ⁠—Sustainable Agriculture, Environmental Science, Youth Engagement, Indigienous Rights, Environmental Law and Human Health.

With all the excitement of travels and preparations, some fears started to sink in...this was my first forum and I honestly did not know what to expect. Will I have the right to speak? If I do speak, will I be heard? Will my opinions be ridiculed? Will people think that I am unqualified? What can I contribute to dialogues? All of these questions bombarded my brain as the first round of discussions commenced. As I listened, heart racing, debating whether or not to speak the brave Kelsey Kliparchuk (a fellow delegate) took the floor voicing concerns of indigenous welfare. Her confident input gave me the push I needed to fulfill what I was chosen to do, to bring my passion for sustainable agriculture to this stage of international discussion. Thinking back to that first day, if someone asks me how I felt about the conference I always say that the opportunity to not only speak, but to be heard was incredibly empowering and energizing. Throughout the forum, I can state that without a doubt each member of our Canadian delegation made their expertise known and contributed impactfully to all discussions. We were a team that Canada would be proud of and we exemplified that youth do indeed have a valid voice and strong suggestions for change.

Summary of the 11th Geneva Forum

We attended the Geneva Forum for four exciting days with each consisting of a different conference comprised of presentations by industry leaders in the morning, followed by an open discussion and a breakout session in the evening. Below I have written a summary of each day and topic:

Day one of the 11th Geneva Forum: Sustainable Tourism.

Today we listened to presentations on various aspects of sustainable tourism such as: indigenous tourism, sustainable practices in hotel restaurants, elephant conservation and cultural tourism as a method for development and peace. After the presentations we discussed the following in breakout groups: tourism for science development, tourism for social change, and new ideas for sustainable tourism.

Sustainable tourism is a topic that seldom comes to mind for many; however, tourism is a vital component of many countries GDP's. Despite this, in many cases it also has a negative impact on citizens and the environment. Such a fact makes it essential to be conscientious travelers who respect all peoples and lands while supporting sustainable and ethical adventures.

Day two of the 11th Geneva Forum: Rights of Nature.

What exactly do we mean by Rights of Nature? This movement aims to show that human life is inseparable from the environment and thus nature requires explicit rights. During this conference we debated many facets relating to this topic, including how it applies to the global economy (I presented the results of my group 's discussion to all conference attendees) and how to enhance our connection with nature.

On this day I also had the privilege of meeting Doris Ragettli, who has been pioneering the The Rights of Mother Earth movement for 10 years while also been pushing the UN to action. Currently, the UN has stated they will consider the motion of a 'Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth' only after Doris reaches one million petition signatures. Together we the participants of the 8th International Conference on the Rights of Nature published a statement to be sent to the UN demanding action. The Rights of Nature are integral to our own. Without protecting the environment and giving it inalienable rights we will continue to see ecocide and blatant disregard for its integrity. Please take the time to learn more about this topic and then sign the petition at

Day three of the 11th Geneva Forum: Citizen Science.

I was very excited for this day of the conference as it is directly relates to my future PhD! Citizen science is the practice of researchers collaborating with the public in scientific endeavors. At this conference we spoke of topics such as: the necessity for the scientific community to further validate citizen science, how to encourage the public to participate in scientific research and how citizen science is being used to engage youth.

Scientists today are losing out on a plethora of data because they refuse to acknowledge the credibility of public observation even though many studies have shown it to be just as valid as “scientific” observation. One day I hope to be part of the needed paradigm shift where I will strive to learn from farmers, incorporate their findings into sustainable agriculture management plans, and involve them in the development of farmer training programs.

Day four of the 11th Geneva Forum: Inclusive Pedagogy.

A student-focused teaching style that aims to take into account student’s diverse histories, academics and learning styles is necessary for educational development. This is inclusive pedagogy. For this discussion we addressed the following topics: education driving change in society, education as a tool for science and development and what sustainable development goals are needed for education.

Education of all genders is foundational to development because it provides people with the opportunity to learn skills which can then be translated into meaningful employment. Within education, it is important to support a “growth mindset” where learning is paramount at all stages of life. Education is also an important element of building international peace because it allows for greater cross-cultural awareness and thus encourages tolerance. However, it is important to note that in order for education to be successful the basic needs of every citizen should be met.


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