written by Haruka Aoyama, 2021 Youth Champion Alumna
Haruka Aoyama joined the Spur Change Youth Champions Program in 2021 when she was looking for an opportunity to learn how to take meaningful and effective actions toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Haruka was born and raised in Okayama, Japan. She moved to reside in Kjipuktuk, Mi’kma’ki (Halifax) in 2016. After studying Environment, Sustainability and Society (ESS) and Political Science from Dalhousie University, Haruka started working as a Legislative Assistant. Haruka soon became a member of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) for the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC) after graduation.
I came to know about the Spur Change Youth Champions Program through ACIC, and I’ve been involved with ACIC even after my term for YAC completed, as ACIC is the partner organization for Youth Champions Program. As a youth who has never made any actions or been involved in activism, the Youth Champions Program prepared me to take a first step. Throughout the online meetings where we learnt about practical skills related to public engagement and theory related to SDGs, international cooperation, gender justice, climate justice and more, my awareness was turned into knowledge, then into empowerment.
Outside the online meetings with youth across Canada, I had multiple meetings with the program coordinator and ACIC where we spent time reviewing public engagement action plans and learning how I can improve my ideas and plans to better address issues and meet goals. Extensive support I received from peers, coordinators and a partnering organization through this program equipped me to execute my first Public Engagement Action in July 2021.
After graduation, I began to think about how I could contribute to the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by creating spaces where newcomers, immigrants, foreign workers, and people who are not fluent in English can more comfortably participate in dialogue around sustainability.
Around the same time, the Government of Nova Scotia was seeking community members or groups to consult newcomers or immigrants to shape a sustainable future through new goals under Nova Scotia’s Sustainable Development Goals Act (SDGA). This opportunity led me to start an initiative called Change Today Change Tomorrow.
I reached out to my international student friends and their network to see if they would be interested in a platform to talk about sustainability, inclusive economy and climate change. With their support and the help of the government program, I was able to host a panel discussion and create the kind of space I wish had existed when I first came to Nova Scotia.
This first step opened so many doors of opportunities for engagement in efforts toward the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Local Media (Chronicle Herald) featured my project, I was featured in “Employee Spotlight” bulletin within my work organization (Halifax Regional Municipality) and the What We Heard report from the panel discussion was read by 2021 Nova Scotia provincial election candidates where two parties, Nova Scotia Liberal Party and Nova Scotia New Democratic Party submitted a letter in response to questions related to an inclusive economy. With the small noise I made, the story reached a wider audience thanks to local media and community leaders.
Thanks to Jackie Dowling from ACIC, Sebastián Vielmas, and so many other guest speakers and peers I met through the Youth Champions Program, I could take my first step of turning my ideas for the future into actual plans and activities.