We came from throughout the continent and beyond — from fishing communities in Zanzibar to townships in South Africa, from villages in Zambia to teeming capital cities across the continent. More than 40 youth climate activists from throuhgout Southern and East Africa traveled by boat, car, taxi, bus, train and airplane to Johannesburg South Africa for the inaugural 350Speaks Climate Leadership Workshop.

For four days, we shared our stories, learned organizing skills and planned campaigns in our countries and our communities leading up to October 24, the International Day of Climate Action. From my experience, as one of theh conveners of the workshop, It was an incredibly powerful experience to be with all of these thoughtful, excited and savvy youth leaders.

In the rest of the world, we often think of Africa as bearing the brunt of many of the effects of climate change — flood, drought, storms and disease are already increasing in intensity, frequency and range throughout the continent. That’s why it was so important for me to see that African youth, in solidarity with climate organizers all over the world, won’t be satisfied with the status quo.

As Emmanuel from Uganda said to me, “We don’t just need a …. we need a fundamental change.” The 42 activists and organizers who came to the 350speaks workshop are committed to fundamental change. They’re not going to let world leaders make decisions about their future without hearing from them. They’re also not going to wait around for developed countries to send over money or technology. Since those leaders are dragging their heels, African youth climate activists are developing African solutions to the climate crisis, from planting millions of trees on the continent to building solar stoves and biogas digesters. Don’t take it from me — watch them tell us how they’re going to make some noise in the video above.

From my perspective as a US-based global organizer, there’s nothing more important right now than collaborating with youth all over the world to build a larger and broader movement. Nothing short of a global grassroots movement is going to force our leaders to act fast enough and commit to targets strong enough. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to meet some of those change agents, work together with them to build our voices into a truly diverse, global movement.

In preparing for the summit, I came across this great quote from Gandhi, who spent a fair amount of his young life in Johannesburg, South Africa working with Africans, Indians and other groups to fight for their rights:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

I’m not sure where we fall right now on Gandhi’s timeline, but I know that if we keep building the movement by connecting and mobilizing each activists from all over the world, we’ll get to that last piece soon enough.

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