“Flyway: connecting people and migratory waterbirds” story series #10 – Youth Engaged in Wetlands (YEW)

Interview with Gab Mejia, YEW Communication and Outreach Lead and Elise Allély-Fermé, YEW Network Lead

EAAFP: Hi Gab and Elise, can you briefly introduce Youth Engaged in Wetlands (YEW) to us please?

Youth Engaged in Wetlands (YEW) is an international youth team and network committed to the conservation, protection, and wise-use of wetlands. YEW provides a global platform for young people to enable and empower them to help support the mission of The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Our website: www.youthengagedinwetlands.com

EAAFP: How did YEW start? Who are the members and how do you recruit your members?

The journey of YEW began during the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in October 2018, where youth leaders Elise Allely-Ferme, Lucia Gamarra, Gab Mejia, Takuma Satoh, Anne Valentina Bourbon, and Awa Nyoja banded together to make a closing statement in the main plenary on the important role of youth in the conservation of wetlands and migratory birds. After over a year of discussions and preparation for the COP13, we realized how underrepresented the youth sector is in the Ramsar Convention, and decided that we needed to drive further action beyond the halls of the COP 13.

Since that pivotal moment at the COP13, we launched YEW as a global initiative and strategy to mobilize youth across the world. To fulfill our strategy, we needed a core-team of volunteers and began an application process, establishing the first ever YEW Core Team in October 2019. Today, YEW is composed of 11 core-team members with different but important roles to deliver our mission and vision at pace in time for COP14 and beyond. The core members and their roles are listed in the map below and you can learn more about each member and also our previous members through our website.

YEW Core team members ©YEW

Distribution of Youth Engaged in Wetlands members ©YEW

The success of YEW has relied on the volunteer commitment of the YEW Core-team members and previous members as early as 2018, all with different areas of expertise and interest but all driven by a commitment to wetland conservation and youth empowerment. We are pleased to share that our team is growing and we will be recruiting for some new core-team members very soon.

YEW in COP13 (YEW members giving a speech in the closing plenary) ©YEW

EAAFP: That’s impressive for how YEW was initiated and growing the team! What has YEW achieved so far?

In addition to strengthening’s YEW’s internal structure and processes, YEW’s efforts concentrate on advocacy, capacity building and networking.

In terms of advocacy, YEW is actively engaged within the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, currently preparing to participate in the 59th Standing Committee Meeting. In particular, we have developed a draft resolution for the next Ramsar COP14 with the objective of formally integrating and strengthening youth engagement in the Ramsar Convention. YEW’s advocacy work also extends beyond the Ramsar Convention and into other relevant Conventions like the UNFCCC. With Wetlands International, we recently launched the #PowerOfWetlands campaign and open letter to recognize the importance of wetlands for climate action. The Open Letter is currently gathering signatures and is directed towards political and business leaders as well as Focal Points for the Paris agreement calling for the integration of wetlands in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions.

In terms of capacity building and networking, YEW has led different initiatives to connect young people around the world. In 2020, YEW launched the global YEW survey, collecting the experiences of more than 80 youth from around the world. Our global report sharing key lessons learned regarding the challenges and opportunities for youth in wetland conservation will soon be publically accessible on our website. It will be the basis for further capacity building and networking efforts within YEW. We are also proud to have partnered with the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership, co-organizing the first ever Flyway Youth Forum at the end of 2020 to connect, empower and provide a platform for dialogue for youth leaders along the Flyway. YEW has worked with other youth groups such as the Guardians of the Wetlands in Peru, CIAM Panama to deliver virtual events and training workshops and also engaged with several festivals, and conferences such as the RE-PEAT Festival, and the Global Youth Biodiversity Network Youth Leadership Dialogue.

You can read more stories of YEW here: https://www.youthengagedinwetlands.com/stories

YEW capacity building workshop ©YEW

EAAFP: What was the most impressive or memorable event/project for YEW?

One of the most recent memorable projects for YEW is the 2020  Flyway Youth Forum (FYF) with the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP). This was the largest event we organized while also overcoming the challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic going completely virtual.

In this Forum, we mobilized and connected about 80 youth leaders along the flyway. We were lucky to have the Ramsar Secretary General Martha Rojas Urrego and Dr. Jane Goodall as key-note speakers and esteemed speakers and trainers from the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, among others to build the capacity of youth leaders in Asia.

One of the most gratifying moments of the Forum came from the responses we received from the flyway youth leaders that participated who shared with us their appreciation and gratitude for giving them such a life changing opportunity. There is a powerful feeling that comes from being able to connect with like-minded individuals who are driven with the same goal to protect and conserve our wetlands and migratory waterbirds.

Working with the EAAFP Secretariat and connecting with young people along the flyway was a rich experience, giving us all further motivation and inspiration. The Flyway Youth Forum was such a success that we are replicating it along the East Atlantic Flyway. And who knows… maybe even more flyways in the future!

Flyway Youth Forum 2020 with youth leaders, trainers, and speakers.

EAAFP: Considering all your members are working from all around the world as a volunteer, how did the team maintain the work and keep motivated?

YEW is lucky to be made up of greatly driven and motivated individuals – if you speak to any of our core-team members, you will see how their passion for wetlands is contagious. You’ll notice this passion in the efforts and the work they lead as individuals beyond what they do for YEW. In addition, YEW counts with strong leadership, the financial support of Youth Ramsar Japan as well as the guidance and support from youth groups and non-youth partners, like the World Wetland Network and EAAFP.

In practical terms, YEW stays connected through monthly virtual calls to keep our international network aligned and with the goals and objectives we have set. Our structure in 5 thematic teams means that we are all working on different activities and projects at the same time. We also held a physical annual meeting last year in Japan with the support of Ramsar Youth Japan which helped us to remain connected and driven as a team.

Of course, we also have some challenges. As volunteers, we may not have the time or the resources that we would like to advance on certain ideas – ideas and motivation are not what is missing! In addition, we wish to be more inclusive especially in terms of our working language. While many of us speak more than one language, for day to day activities we stick to English which is a challenge for some of our core-team members.

EAAFP: Gab and Elise, as the founding members of YEW, how would you see the growth of YEW? What is the future plan or goal of YEW?

YEW is working to develop its financial sustainability while working on key activities in the lead up to the next Ramsar Convention Conference of the Parties to strengthen youth engagement within the Convention. YEW also plans to expand its network through the formal establishment of its membership and providing greater opportunities to its members. YEW plans to launch a new membership platform this year where youth can actively participate and engage with the network without having to be part of the YEW Core Team. YEW also continues to keep the momentum on-going by scaling the Flyway Youth Forums across different Flyways such as the upcoming East-Atlantic Flyway Forum this year.

Finally, YEW does not only strive to bring about positive change within the wetland world – it strives to bring about positive changes among its members, supporting them in their career development and aspirations. YEW is an opportunity to explore and develop the capacity of each and everyone of us to amplify our impact as individuals and as a team. YEW grows with its members.

EAAFP: Lastly, as a youth-led group for conservation, what would like to say to young people?

Our creativity, capacity and ambition has multiplied by working together. We realise that as a team we can reach a level of creativity and innovation that one person alone cannot imagine. Dream big and dream together!


YEW Annual Meeting in Tokyo, Japan (January 2020)


YEW member in Action for World Wetlands Day 2020

World Wetlands Day celebration in the Philippines ©YEW


World Wetlands Day celebration in Guinea ©YEW



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