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Engaging the Next Generation: leading a Youth Visioning Workshop in Selva Maya

Updated: Jan 4

In today's rapidly changing world, the importance of environmental conservation through the involvement of a wide variety of actors cannot be overstated. When it comes to forest stewardship, engaging young people is crucial for the future of our planet. By instilling a sense of participation and responsibility, and fostering the love for their communities in young minds, we are a step closer to the preservation of forests for generations to come. Precisely, exploring the importance of involving young people in forest stewardship and the various ways to inspire their active participation is part of the mission of the Youth Visioning workshop methodology.

Of Mayan descent, Petcacab y Polikin is an ejido located two hours away from the city of Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo. Following a narrow path filled with trees, the facilitation team arrives at the central park, where the town authorities are finishing up the preparations for the San Juan Bautista festival.

Some ejidatarios, like Basilio Rivas, organize activities to increase youth involvement.

Sitting outside the “Casa Ejidal”, Don Basilio Rivas awaits us. He is well-known and beloved in the entire community, as for many years he has led a project for children and teenagers. Through birdwatching and baseball, Basilio has managed to create a stronger bond between young people and their ejido; helping them understand the value of their jungle, and encouraging their involvement in its protection. It is Basilio who has called upon and organized the young people who will attend the Youth Visioning Workshop.

One of the key reasons to involve young people in the discussion on the future of forests is the unique perspective they bring to the table. A few introductory and ice-breaking activities take place before we ask participants to collectively design a map with all the places they consider as landmarks of their community and forest. With great enthusiasm, they jump into the back of a pick-up track and take us on a tour that includes all the places they have thought of. The chicozapote tree, a cenote, a community sawmill and even a handicrafts store: the list of places they choose to show us is long. Clearly, all participants have a lot of affection for their ejido and its forest, and they surely are not short of ideas for its development. However, they agree that it is difficult for the voice of young people to be heard.

Forest and community tour, led by youth.

When asked what message she would like to give to the ejido authorities, Sandra, a 20-year-old participant, does not hesitate: "They should listen to us. We may sound a bit crazy at first, but our ideas could be exactly what the community needs." Currently, Sandra is pursuing a degree in Alternative Tourism in Chetumal, and dreams of becoming a wildlife photography guide. Like many other participants, she would like to see a diversification of activities in the ejido. If it were up to them, they would prioritize ecotourism. It's not that the older generations haven't thought about it, but Sandra and her peers are certain that young people can bring innovative ideas on how to address this matter.

When asking the participants what they would like to change in their community, the discussion becomes noticeably dynamic. "We would like better waste management and to prevent forest pollution", "It is not the same as before, and there are places where crime and insecurity have been gaining ground", "Machismo is still strong in the community," the participants say, and it is evident that they are not often invited to participate in this kind of discussion. Nevertheless, this coin has two sides: when asked what they would like to preserve, they all unanimously express their appreciation for living in a forest community, the kindness that characterizes most community members, and the importance of being close to their family.

Workshop participants working on the map for the group tour.

Petcacab, like many forest communities, faces the challenge of effectively involving young people both in its decision-making process, and in the discussion about the future. In this context, migrating to an urban environment is always a possibility. Despite the fact that most participants express that they would like to return, they are aware of the high probability of staying in the city. The most obvious reason is to access higher education; however, some of them confess that they are not attracted to the existing job opportunities that the ejido has to offer. They recognize that working in a sawmill is within their reach, but having visited larger cities, jobs in engineering, hospitality, and administration sound very appealing to them.

The chicozapote tree highly valued by ejidos for its latex, wood and medicinal properties.

"It's the difference in mindset that makes young people not want to take part in this," says Don Basilio, as soon as he has the opportunity to share his opinion on generational succession. He, as many other ejidatarios, will eventually face the decision on whom to leave their land rights to. Seeing that his three sons are not necessarily following his steps fills him with concern, but he is aware that worrying is not enough: if young people are to start taking on a more active role0, the ejidal administration must act in favor of creating spaces for participation as soon as possible.

Thanks to the Selva Maya Conservation Timber Summit, an important first step is achieved: the members of the ejidal administration board from Petcacab hear the results of the Youth Visioning Workshop through the voice of three of its participants. Not only are the ideas of the young people formally expressed for the first time, but there is also a commitment from the authorities to allow them to present their ideas to the entire Assembly.

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