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Power of Youth

protest sign: "Earth is more valuable than money"
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Last week I was at a conference for Portland-based organizations involved in global development work. It was sobering and hopeful at the same time. The dangers of climate change, the refugee crisis, the challenges faced by peoples and countries around the world, the even greater challenges looming on the horizon, are all rather staggering. At the same time, there are bright spots of hope, many of which come from our youth.

One speaker shared the story of Richard Turere, a young Maasai boy in Kenya, who solved a sticky challenge. In Maasai culture, boys between the ages of 6 and 9 are responsible for looking after the cattle. But there’s a nature preserve nearby that is not entirely fenced in and the lions roam free. The cattle are easy prey and the tribe has lost many of their herd to the lions. So they started killing the lions. No one really wanted to do this, but they were losing their livelihood. So Richard, during his stint as cattle herder, set out to solve the problem.

At first he thought of using fire. But that actually helped the lions see into the cowshed. Then one night, he was out with a flashlight, checking the fences. He was flashing that light all along the perimeter. Later, he realized the lions had stayed away.

So he gathered some electronic components and a solar cell. He rigged up a system of lights along the fences that flashed randomly throughout the night. Success! The lions stayed away and Richard could get some sleep. Soon his neighbors started asking for a lighting system for their fences. Richard quickly found his solution in high demand in the neighboring villages as well. Now he’s an international figure and has even given his own TEDTalk.

This is what generating and applying knowledge looks like. It didn’t take a research grant or a huge international aid effort to solve this problem. This was one small boy who had an idea and used available materials to devise a solution.

Just look what we can learn! First of all, in Maasai society, children have very real responsibilities. And responsibility builds capacity. In this case, the capacity for inventiveness. I wonder how many amazing solutions are languishing in our elementary schools and our junior high and high schools, waiting for an opportunity to emerge? Who knew that a lone high school student from Sweden could spark a worldwide movement to demand that leaders address climate change? In fact, at this conference in Portland, one speaker’s 12-year-old daughter urged her father to “Go Greta on them!”

Secondly, could Richard’s flashing light solution help ranchers in Oregon deal with the wolves who are eating their livestock?

The seeds of solutions are everywhere—if we choose to look, to listen and to come together to learn.

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