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MyF&BMembership

Youth leading the way

From an early age Kaya Freeman knew her life’s purpose was to protect the planet and its inhabitants. Since then, she has made a huge contribution to Forest & Bird Youth, our nationwide network of young people committed to protecting and restoring Aotearoa’s wildlife and wild places. She was national co-director of Forest & Bird Youth from 2019 to 2021, winner of the Te Kaiārahi Rangatahi o te Taiao youth award in 2021 and currently serves on Forest & Bird’s Board.

Find out more about this young environmentalist as we ask her five quick questions.

How did you first get involved in environmental activities and advocacy?

Portrait image of Kaya Freeman

Kaya Freeman

As a kid, I did a lot of travelling - mostly to visit my family in different parts of the world. It meant I could explore new places, and experience different cultures and landscapes, that I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

I was always struck by how drastically unique every place was ecologically, but also socially. I went from seeing vast deserts whose roadsides were laden with rubbish; to marine micro-ecosystems with gashes in the coral reefs from the motorboats whizzing past; to freshwater estuaries clogged by sewage and still over-fished by people trying to survive.

That’s when I realised how important it is to recognise that environmental, social and cultural health all go hand-in-hand. We need to make caring for the planet not just something that the privileged can do, but something that is the easy choice for everyone because it makes their lives happier and healthier at the same time.

When I arrived in Aotearoa, I got involved in local restoration projects, pollution reduction schemes and climate activism groups, and later helped set up the very first Forest & Bird Youth Branch in Tāmaki Makaurau.

What are you most proud of?

Kaya Freeman with another youth member setting up traps at Hosking Reserve, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Kaya with another youth member setting up traps at Hosking Reserve, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

I'm most proud of Forest & Bird Youth as a whole. I can't claim much credit because I've been working with such an incredible team the entire way through, but I’m delighted to be part of the growth of the Network as it transforms into a successful, recognised entity.

With region-based hubs across the country and the superb and dedicated national teams, I'm sure the Network will continue for years to come, and I can't wait to see it continue to evolve and develop as the needs and goals of the young people of Aotearoa continue to change in the shifting landscape of conservation and environmental protection.

What is your favourite wildlife encounter?

That's a difficult one to choose! I think the one that had the most impact on me was when I was living on the sailing boat, moored offshore in Auckland. Early one morning, I heard a strange huffing noise, so I ran up on deck to see a pod of six or seven dolphins swimming around my boat. It was such an incredible moment for me, being so close to such powerful and peaceful creatures. We share this crazy world with so much life that we often don't see when we're busy trying to save it.

Who is your environmental hero?

Kaya Freeman picking up rubbish at the 2019 Whau River Seacleaners event, Waitematā Harbour, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Kaya picking up rubbish at the 2019 Whau River Seacleaners event, Waitematā Harbour, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

There are so many inspiring, dedicated and passionate environmental leaders across Aotearoa, I can’t pick just one environmental hero. I prefer to look beyond just a single person, because I believe there is more power in all the individuals who are playing their part, running local conservation groups, leading community sustainability initiatives, teaching their friends to tread lightly... There’s just so much energy in seeing everyday people caring about the planet in their day-to-day lives. It shows me how we could live one day in a society that prioritises people and planet.

Internationally I am always inspired by the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit based in South Africa. They're a team of young women working to ensure wildlife is protected and respected, through a range of actions including environmental education campaigns, community engagement programmes, and patrolling on the ground in reserves, to ensure a future for their wildlife for generations to come. If such a small team can have such a big impact, what else can we achieve if we unite across the planet, and stand together for the wellbeing of all?

If you could tell the Prime Minister one thing right now, what would it be?

You told us that climate change is your generation's nuclear free moment. You promised us ambitious action - impactful, equitable and multi-generational change - on poverty, inequality, and the environment.

And we've seen some action... slowly. But your government is still funding new carbon-intensive motorways, still allowing our native forests to be cut down for mining and still actively encouraging fossil-fuel burning private vehicles.

Future generations will look back at these years of chaos and pandemonium as a missed opportunity to consider the impacts on people and our planet now and in the future, and to prioritise the health of humans and nature, over profit.

But it's not too late to prove your commitment to deliver a better future for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. You have an opportunity to achieve long-term system change - to be remembered as the leader of Aotearoa New Zealand who stood up against the climate crisis and altered the course of history.

We borrow the earth from our grandchildren; how do you want them to remember you?

Kaya (centre) marching with Forest & Bird Youth members Pravneel Kumar (left, an Auckland member) and Connor Wallace (right, a Youth co-director) in the 2019 School Strike for Climate (SS4C), Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Kaya (centre) marching with Forest & Bird Youth members Pravneel Kumar (left, an Auckland member) and Connor Wallace (right, another Youth co-director) in the 2019 School Strike for Climate (SS4C), Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Join Forest & Bird Youth

Forest & Bird Youth is a nationwide network of young people (aged 14-25) who are protecting and restoring Aotearoa's wildlife and wild places. Join this nationwide community and get involved in opportunities, events, competitions and more. This is also a space to support you in your involvement and journey within the network. Grow as a leader, a volunteer, and as a conservationist.

Find out more on our Forest & Bird Youth webpage
Visit the Forest & Bird Youth Facebookand Instagram

This article first appeared in the March 2022 E-news.

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