By Jack Gallagher

Being part of The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program was the best thing that I could have possibly done for myself in high school. It opened so many opportunities for great educational experiences. Being able to travel to different parts of the country and now the world with the Youth Climate Program has allowed me to meet people from all over trying to make a positive change in their communities. Also, during all these trips we have had a great group of people who became very close working together on these projects.

One of the biggest challenges I have endured working with this program has been staying focused when we were preparing presentations. However, without doing those presentations with the AYCP, I would not have the public speaking skills that I do now. It’s a result of all the practice doing the presentations, and it actually opened up a job opportunity for me. Anyone new to the program or thinking about joining it should take as many of these opportunities are possible and put in a serious effort. A lot of people are willing to listen to what you have to say and want to see what you can do.

The trip itself was really eye opening. I had a lot of culture shock and never fully adjusted. It was hotter and more humid than any place I’ve been before. However, I was able to see places I never imagined I would go to, and liked how we were able to see so many different places in such a short amount of time.  The religious temples we went to were amazing, and we drove by some that were just as impressive. Everywhere we went, we had delicious food, including the fresh fruit on stands just off the side of the roads. I was overjoyed when I had the opportunity to see elephants being able to roam freely on their own terms. Whenever we stopped and talked to anyone they would ask us lots of questions, like: “Do you like Sri Lanka? How’s the food? What is it like where you are from? Still getting used to the heat?”

The actual summit was great- The students were enthusiastic and ready to find solutions in their schools. Presenting to a group from halfway across the world was challenging, as I had to speak slow to make sure everyone was able to understand the material. It took some practice and concentration, since  I normally get excited and talk fast when I present. Presenting to people where English was their second language was challenging, but I think most of the students could understand what I was saying. The workshops were mostly panel discussions, and not quite as hands-on as other summits I have been to. My favorite one was the climate justice workshop, which was a really intense discussion on how climate change is going to affect the world’s poorest people. It also discussed how Sri Lanka can play a role in a force for good, even though it’s such a small country. My favorite part of the summit was being able to talk to the students during our tabling session, and I was impressed with how prepared they were. They had everything they needed and then some, and we even gained some ideas to use at future summits. Most of the climate action plans I saw were achievable projects that students were ready to work on. My favorite one was a proposal to build an outdoor study area out of bricks made from recycled material.

The thing I will remember the most from this trip other than the heat and incredible food will definitely be the opportunity I had to talk to these students, and their views on how to fix the word. This program has given me all sorts of knowledge that I will have for life- Not just all the scientific facts, but also the people skills. I really hope this program will be able to continue the positive work they are doing for a long time.