Throughout high school, I’ve been struggling with the idea of being an activist. What makes an activist? Am I enough of an activist? What’s the point? As the Greta Thunbergs of our individual societies are inciting change on an international level, where does a self-proclaimed high school activist stand?
I’ve been brought up a “third-culture kid” in an already multi-faceted, diverse country: Singapore. Though I was born here, culturally, I’ve been raised Indian, while attending a diverse international school.
To understand one’s background can be taken for granted. Singaporean, Indian, International? I can’t tie myself down to only one identity, and that can make things difficult. My generation is one of communication, globalisation and diversity – and we’re very aware of all the problems afflicting society and how the climate crisis impacts them. All the communities to which I belong are affected, too. It’s a lot to think about.
At my school, many are like me. We care a lot about sustainability and our duty to society as we prepare to enter the world. It’s part of our curriculum, ingrained in our ethos and it drives most of our actions. With the environment deteriorating around us, there’s an inescapable burden to make an “impact” and meet our true potential as members of this modern society. We need to inspire ourselves and others to make the right choices – if we don’t, then the climate crisis is putting our future at risk.
It’s easy to always look outward and be overwhelmed, or to compare oneself to the ‘famous’ activists in newspaper articles. But, I am learning that even small scale change matters, too. Understanding what’s going on in your own surroundings before turning to the rest of the world is a productive step towards a more connected, sustainable community. In fact, it’s at the heart of “being an activist”: caring for your community and inspiring others to do the same.
I recently joined Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA), a youth-led organisation working to make change at both grassroots and policy levels in Singapore. As someone who has always felt outside of the local community, shielded in the international schooling system bubble, it’s been especially insightful to ground myself in a new community and look at the fight against climate change at a domestic level, studying policies and initiatives.
“Understanding what is going on in your own surroundings before turning to the rest of the world is a productive step towards a more connected, sustainable community.”
Joining SYCA was one of the best decisions I made. It pushed me to interact with youth with different backgrounds, opportunities and experiences to my own, even while I continued my work in my own school. Recently, we studied Singapore’s NDC (nationally determined contribution to the Paris agreement) and also considered its local impact. We created a position paper, and it was the first time I had the chance to work with more experienced activists to look critically at policies.
Through my journey in my home, school and local community, I’d like to think of myself as an activist. But the things I’m able to do in that position and the impact we have together matter more than just the name or the title. I understand that many teenagers around the world like me will share similar questions and moments of self-doubt, in terms of our place in society. But I know that we’re on the right track. Soon we’ll move on from high school and join new groups of people who are passionate about, forgive the cliché, “changing our world”, and this is what excites me.