Seeds of Eco-Justice: Church Groups Promote Youth Leadership

(Photo: Accion Creacion)Sheep drink water in a polluted lake in Bolivia in part of a photo exhibition organized by Accion Creacion, a project which aims to show the effects of "water injustice" on communities in Latin America.

A recent global gathering of political leaders in Brazil with an aim to make changes to the way the world's people use natural resources amounted to little in the way of immediate practical new policy commitments, but a global church group is highlighting the way young people have been seeking to promote a grass-roots faith-based approach to change in promoting sustainability and eco-justice.

The World Council of Churches, on Monday highlighted the work of youths who recently attended the Rio 20 Conference in Brazil, formally known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The two-day summit in June, taking place in Rio de Janeiro immediately after the G20 conference of world leaders in Canada, produced a political document on sustainability that fell short of advocates' goals.

The document "lacked detail and ambition" and were a "disappointment" to many environmental and social justice advocates worldwide, noted author Susan Kim.

One youth participant, a student of international affairs, working through a Lutheran project in Brazil, outlined her hope amid inaction by the political groups. The particular project Raquel Kleber of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil participated in is called Criatitude, and calls for Lutherans and others to use "creative attidudes" in pursuit of the goals.

"Yes, Rio 20 disappointed us," she said. "But the youth of Criatitude hold in their hands the hope and the power to make a difference and truly shape the future we want. The 40 young people of Criatitude are truly inspired to implement local eco-justice projects."

The group featured the participation of people between 18 and 30 years of age. They had the opportunity to travel to the event where they interacted with official delegates of the conference and participated in workshops and lectures. The event was planned jointly by the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation.

The project involved two weeks of training on the theology and politics of ecological justice. Afterwards, Leber was among the participants who pledged to start local initiatives promoting their newfound understandings.

"The capacity building provided by the WCC and the LWF was decisive for the implementation of this project," she said.

At the UN Conference, another project sought to portray the effects of "water injustice" in Latin America through a photo exhibition entitled Accion Creacion.

"The exhibition highlights local issues by telling the stories of communities that, every day, are living with the effects of water injustice," said Marcelo Leites, a regional secretary of the World Student Christian Federation. Leites, like Kleber both participated in a WCC and LWF project last year called Youth for Eco-Justice.

Among the images in the exhibition are children, homes and animals in and around polluted rivers, as well as images of trucks delivering water to homes and a billboard near small hillside homes stating "We Act, that's Why We Have a 'Healthy Home.' Buy Your Bathroom!"

The exhibition is set to be displayed in various countries across Latin America.

"We are providing a space in which civil society can participate in arts and advocacy initiatives that hundreds of young people have done as they illustrate the water justice issues facing their communities," he said.

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