Q+A: GLF youth leader Salina Abraham pushes for progress on sustainable landscapes

Hugh Biggar
3 February 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — The challenges are vast. Some 71 million young people are unemployed, 600 million of the world’s 1.2 billion 15- to 24-year-olds live in conflict-affected and fragile states, and 263 million children and youth are out of school, according to the United Nations.

To gain insights into how environmental concerns intersect with the overall concerns of youth, Landscapes News spoke with Salina Abraham, youth coordinator at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), which is managed by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Abraham was a keynote speaker at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on Tuesday.

Abraham, who also serves as president of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA), shared her thoughts on the challenges ahead for the largest generation of youth in history and the importance of achieving a sustainable global future in the face of degraded landscapes, desertification, global warming, growing inequality and loss of vital plants and wildlife.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.

A: My family is from Eritrea in East Africa. I was born in the Netherlands, where I now reside, and I was raised in the United States. My parents left Eritrea and Ethiopia, respectively, during a time of war and were accepted as refugees in the Netherlands. It was in the Netherlands that they met, gained an education, built careers, a family, and even owned their first home. My father, having studied as an aeronautical engineer at the request of his father, was hired by (the world’s biggest airplane maker) Boeing which sparked the family move to the United States. I’ve since studied at the University of Washington in Environmental Science and Economics, with my research taking me back to Eritrea. I am very comfortable with the complexity of different life paths, cultures, and experiences and love to re-discover them within topics of resource management.

Q: How did this background shape your current interests in global issues and sustainability?

A: My interest in global issues and sustainability starts first and foremost with people. There is a heightened sense of consciousness towards your privilege when your grandparents’ and extended family’s reality is starkly different from yours. I have always been acutely aware of the pervasive pressing problems such as poverty, hunger, increasing inequalities, political inefficiencies, etc. My interest in sustainability was sparked by my interest in the relationship between humans and the environment and how our management of natural resources can have both restorative and destructive impacts on both the land and in livelihoods.

Q: How did you become involved in the International Forestry Students’ Association and GLF?

A: I became involved in IFSA through my local association at the University of Washington and, furthermore, at the IFSA international symposium held in the Philippines in 2015. IFSA is an excellent organization that connects forestry students with each other and with leading global institutions. It was through IFSA’s great partnership with CIFOR that led to my first involvement with the GLF in Paris December 2015.

Q: What is the Youth in Landscapes Initiative?

A: The Youth in Landscapes (YIL) Initiative is a global movement of young people who are committed to collaboration and collective action for sustainable landscapes. It is a platform for youth organizations and young leaders to connect and identify key areas of work and coordinate activities for young people. YIL is an incredible vehicle for transformational change. It gives young people an entry point to develop skills and engages them through an alumni program so that they become the next organizers and continue to feed into YIL programs. A true example of an organization that transforms students to young powerful leaders.

Q: In your speech at the ECOSOC Youth Forum, you mentioned the importance of “igniting small fires” of action. How do you see the role of youth in achieving global sustainable development goals and sparking change?

A: Youth. It is too broad and diverse a group to often wrap one’s mind around. I am opposed to placing young people in boxes therefore I don’t necessarily believe we should all be social entrepreneurs leading innovative startups and tech heavy solutions. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the varied ways, talents, and skills that young people bring to the table with respect to the sustainable development goals — this can be in implementation, project management, cultural movements, music, policy, farming, etc. Some things I do believe we hold in common are a strong unabated energy and desire to see change and a fresh perspective that is not tainted by the disappointments or setbacks accompanying increased experience.

Q: What role do you see for yourself, now and in the future?

A: The beauty of working for youth organizations is that there is a never-ending flow of young people who are becoming ready to take the lead. I look forward to taking a mentorship role in IFSA as I conclude my presidency with writing our five-year strategic plan. I look forward to cementing Youth in Landscapes as a formidable force and player in the sphere of land management and reaching more young people than we ever have before. There is so much more to come.

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