What happens when a global pandemic forces the world to be put on pause? According to more than half a dozen students from Piombino, Tuscany (Italy) -- the work never stops. These 17-year old youth ambassadors for Walk the Global Walk (WTGW) have reached across the aisle to work with other students in their city, along with local authority and businesses to institute change locally … and eventually globally.

How did this powerful group of inspiring teens come together to work on UN Sustainability Goal #13 amidst a vicious virus? According to Claudia Maffei of Oxfam Italia Intercultura, teachers in Piombino were trained in September through the Oxfam/WTGW collaboration in Italian schools, and that February (before the COVID-19 chaos commenced) Maffei met the students who now pledged to take a part in changing the future of our global world.

These impressive students started raising awareness about SDG #13’s main goal of climate change by focusing on the idea of sustainable mobility. They dusted off and re-took the reign of the “eco-movement,” started by previous students in years past. The movement was restarted by two different school groups in Piombino, something that was organized before quarantine took place.

Students were forced to work from home together, using social media as a powerful tool to keep in touch with people who might be interested in helping their cause. Every week, students met through virtual ZOOM calls to brainstorm, take photos and videos, and create material to promote SDG Week (that took place on June 1-7 in Italy). “The project did NOT stop even when the world did” according to youth ambassador Claudia Clementi.

According to Maffei, one of the top moments she recalls during this pandemic crisis was the alteration of the WTGW walk and race with the whole city of Piombino. Citizens would have come together to walk, run, or skate in an effort to demonstrate different ways of sustainable mobility. The walk would have emphasized each person’s impact on climate and the environment. In this medium-sized town in Tuscany, filled with passionate students, no one wanted to give up this movement one bit. When the pandemic hit hard, Maffei said “we spoke about ‘What are we going to do?’”

The youth ambassadors persisted in their goal of creating awareness around SDG #13 and the future of our environment. Each student took on a different responsibility to make the action happen.  Estella Ricca and Rebecca Bazzano worked on the creation of an efficient Instagram page, deciding when and what to post along with thinking creatively about how to engage the younger generation. One of their creative ideas was the posting of horoscopes on Fridays, relating to topics around SDG #13 to educate viewers in a fun, exciting activity.

The youth ambassadors also came together to create three short videos to promote the same ideas that would have been present in the WTGW walk and race that was not able to take place yet due to COVID-19 lockdown. Student Kinzica Vannini combined photos and videos of other WTGW Youth Ambassadors walking, running, and roller-blading, along with a custom soundtrack crafted by student Iacopo Cristiani, Federico Barsotti and Lorenzo Longhi.

The amazing details placed into these videos included short written facts regarding the amount of CO2 reduction that takes place from not driving a car for one day, and continually educating people in the public about efficient and simple ways that citizens can reduce their carbon footprint. As Maffei said, these students were “coming up with skills and solutions the whole time” during the crisis.

The youth ambassadors also engaged in some community involvement through email, asking city members to join their action. Student ambassador Claudia Clementi said, “We decided to let people be part of this action,” as the student decided in quarantine to contact different associations, such as restaurants. They asked the businesses to submit photos with brands of their association to let people know they were taking part in this action, then picked one day when everyone posted on social media. “We wanted to let everyone participate physically even though we could not be together” said Clementi.

However, in any movement there are hardships to be faced as well. “Due to the Covid19 situation, meeting with the local authority has been impossible so far” as stated by Maffei. “Strong support of the local authority is key in reaching the citizens and the associations, we will continue working on scheduling a meeting with the decision makers despite the completion of the school year” Maffei explained.

In asking the student ambassadors how they coped with not being able to work with the local authority, student Rebecca Bazzano explained “I was a little upset, I was so happy to work with someone with power. We want to do the best, with their help it would be easy… but now we can say that we can do great things also on our own!” Another student ambassador, Estella Ricca, stated powerfully and honestly “I felt disappointed… [yet] we still continued our project” and here they are, still working endlessly for change.

In discussing how a post-lockdown after COVID-19 world will change their vision, Iacopo Cristiani stated, “I think it will be easier… there can always be some misunderstanding [virtually], in real life it is easier to understand one another.” The students expressed that they are excited to reunite in person and continue the important work that needs to be done. Maffei highlighted that one of the most impactful things about this group of students from Piombino is that they bring diverse skills and backgrounds to the table when discussing ideas.

On June 1-7, WTGW published 2-3 posts a day to give visibility and voices to a range of students in a competition for the best awareness raising activity. Around December, the winner will join youth ambassadors from around Italy. They will be working with decision-makers from the local and national governments to market material that will put pressure on the Italian government to help organize a policy response regarding climate change.

Check out the Youth Ambassadors Instagram page here: Ecomovementpiombino

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