Hailing from the Marshall Islands, Bertine Lakjohn is bringing attention to climate change and the threat of rising sea levels. She is a Diploma Programme (DP) graduate of UWC ISAK Japan and was featured in Business Insider for her work as a student activist.
By Bertine Lakjohn
Taking action on climate change has become one of the most galvanizing social issues for young leaders coming of age in the 21st century. Students from around the world are calling for improved policies to protect the environment. We asked Whitman College student Bertine Lakjohn from the Marshall Islands, about how she got involved in climate action and what keeps her optimistic about the future.
“I could not find a way to properly get people from my own country to care about the fact that our islands are sinking”
Can you tell us a little bit about your climate activism? How did it start and how you became involved in it?
I was not really into the whole climate change movement before high school. After attending my first ever climate change arts camp, where I learned of the impacts of climate change and how we could use utilize art to combat it, I became more passionate about the cause. From that point, I became eager to take part in environmental-related events in my community, the Marshall Islands. In my freshman year I joined a group of students to clean up our community by taking care of trash under a bridge in our small town. It was an awfully large amount of trash that if not cleaned up, would continue drifting along our shores because of the bridge’s proximity to the water. We cleaned as much as we could and filled at least 10-12 trash bags. I genuinely enjoyed the experience, even during the tiring hours under the blazing heat.
“I have decided to address climate issues by continuing to provide support to those interested and inform those who are uninformed”
Sadly, after that year, I was away from home during my junior and senior year and I could not get as directly involved as I would have liked. But each time I did go home, I made sure I was getting involved in any way I could. I also took part in the youth leadership camp called, “Combatting climate change,” in the summer of my junior year. I’m really glad I took part in this camp because we not only learned about leadership alongside collaboration skills, but we also learned about how we could utilize those very skills as tools to combat the effects of climate change. The camp was youth-led, which something I deeply appreciated. Essentially, the camp left such a deep impression on me that when I came back during the summer of my senior year, I volunteered to be a facilitator for the camp.
What do you think is the most significant challenges facing aspiring environmentalists today? And how have you addressed that challenge in your work?
Getting people on the same page is a prominent difficulty I’ve encountered during my work as a climate activist. For example, I could not find a way to properly get people from my own country to care about the fact that our islands are sinking and if we don’t do something now, we won’t have the chance later. Some people willingly listened however others continued to walk away. So, in response to that I have decided to address climate issues by continuing to provide support to those interested and inform those who are uninformed, which was one of the main reasons as to why I part took in climate change camps.
Additionally, I understand that some choose to use force or pressure others to get involved, however I try not to be that force that dictates for people what to do because it feels liberating and more efficient if people are given the freedom to choose to get involved or not.
If people wanted to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you share that you’ve found helpful along the way?
“There are so many people who care and are fighting together against the crisis.”
I would share this: I completely understand that fighting for climate change, or any other just cause, can be draining because it is a lot of work. It takes a patient and determined person to be doing all that you are. Therefore, I advise you to take a break if you need to and take care of yourself. As much as it is important to fight for a just cause, taking care of yourself is also important. If you are sincerely incapable, both physically and mentally, to continue then you need to step back, take a breather and clear your mind. Once you’re rejuvenated enough, then you can take a step forward onto the battlefield once again. I strongly believe that one must be healthy to do work as fierce as this.
Are you hopeful about the future of the environment? If so, what stories are most inspiring to you?
I am excited for the future. There are so many people who care and are fighting together against the crisis. For instance, when I attended the climate strike in New York and saw the amount of people there marching fiercely, I was amazed to see how many people were/are invested in the cause. Moreover, all over the media I could see there were people marching in so many other places. There was even an organized march (alongside events) in my previous school: UWC ISAK Japan where the entire school marched around our tiny campus to take part. Also, in my current school, Whitman College, they organized for those willing to leave their class at a designated time, so they could join in on the global strike as well.
Was there part of your IB education that help shape your interest and in being a climate activist? Were there any particular skills you learned in the IB that supported your activism?
Because my IB education consisted of me taking 6 classes from different fields of studies, I was able to absorb all the teachings and different teaching methods. I felt IB prepared me to learn and tackle issues in different ways. The versatility it offered enabled me to take on any climate-related issue and try to analyze and approach it from different lenses of education.
Bertine Lakjohn graduate of UWC ISAK Japan and a current student at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
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