Youth participant kneeling by tree
A youth participant of the USAID-funded Ja REEACH project in Jamaica learns to plant mangroves.

Engaging Jamaican Youth in Climate Action

By Mike Thayer

There is great value in pushing for youth education in climate change action. Designing projects that focus on issues youth care about can lead to unexpected, positive outcomes. And engaging youth as active participants with the autonomy and agency to act can have lasting effects long after a development project ends.

While implementing the USAID-funded Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja REEACH) I and II projects from 2012 to 2019, ACDI/VOCA’s team discovered that the young people they engaged and partnered with put their climate-smart knowledge into action to benefit both themselves and their communities. Partnering with the Jamaica Library Service (JLS), our team conducted the “REEACHing Youth Climate Xchange,” an event encouraging youth to think critically about becoming agents of change through climate adaptation and mitigation actions within their schools and communities. The exchange emphasized the ways in which climate change affects girls, boys and men, and women differently.

Building on their partnership with the JLS, the Ja REEACH project team also designed and implemented summer and after-school camps for youth ages eight to 18 years old. Two one-week summer camps, which championed the theme, “I am the change in climate change,” trained 228 youth, including 123 boys and 105 girls. The camps fostered a sense of ownership among youth in changing attitudes toward climate change. They also provided youth with the knowledge and skills to act against climate change at home, at school, and within their communities. Meanwhile, the JLS incorporated climate change into their regular activities, such as essay competitions, story hours, and student debates.


Carlton Collins, of Kingston, Jamaica, and several other youth
Carlton Collins, of Kingston, Jamaica, and several other youth completed internships through the USAID-funded Ja REEACH project to learn practical applications for fighting climate change.

The Ja REEACH project also partnered with the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership to host the Youth Climate Change Conferences series planned by and for young people. Participants competed each year to develop the theme of the conference, as they formed a planning committee and youth delegates led the climate change dialogue, priority setting, and policy statement drafting. This design allowed young people to drive the conversation and be seen as leaders in climate change action. While the conferences were discrete activities, the results were far-reaching.

On a national level, the delegates established climate change or environmental clubs and projects in school-based settings. They also formed their own entity, Youth Climate Change Activists, which has a strong social media presence. The group, which describes itself as “youth in action to save our generation,” has contributed to national and international calls for action. They have planted trees, hosted programs to build awareness among their peers, and led regional beach and community cleanup campaigns.

“We have to be that warning voice. . . . I, no, we have a responsibility to make this a global effort.”— Carlton Collins, a youth climate change activist in Jamaica

“We have to be that warning voice. . . . I, no, we have a responsibility to make this a global effort.”— Carlton Collins, a youth climate change activist in Jamaica

On an international level, Youth Climate Change Activist member Jhannel Tomlinson explained that, since participating in the 2017 conference, she has represented Jamaica as a youth delegate at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference — the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24). Jhannel has been a guest lecturer and panelist and has appeared on radio, television, a July 2020 podcast, and in print media.

Another activist, Carlton Collins, first got involved with the Ja REEACH Project through his school’s science club. His team won a debate on the importance of water to businesses during the 2014 conference. Thanks to his involvement, Carlton went on to win first place for his school in the “youth in agriculture” category at the largest agricultural showcase in the English-speaking Caribbean. His passion for climate change ran so deep that Carlton served as a camp counsellor three years later at the Ja REEACH Climate Camp in 2017.

Carlton’s dedication was evident in his global call for action: “As climate change advocates, our job has been to sensitize our colleagues of the effects of climate change that might not seem so obvious,” he said.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Climate Change, Education, Mitigation, Resilience, Training
Latin America & Caribbean

Mike Thayer

Mike Thayer is a senior director managing ACDI/VOCA’s Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability Activity, funded by USAID in Liberia, and Afghanistan Agricultural Value Chain – High Value Crops sub-award, funded by USAID and implemented by DAI Global. He also serves as a technical lead on new business opportunities, including a recent successful bid for a large, complex food security project that ACDI/VOCA is implementing in Burkina Faso. Prior to joining ACDI/VOCA in 2010, Mike worked on food security projects and international exchange programs for multiple non-profit organizations and a private sector company. He holds a BA In sociology from American University and studied abroad in East Africa through the School for International Training. He also completed graduate short courses in food security and rural livelihoods at the University of London. He has received several Presidential Awards from ACDI/VOCA.

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