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See My Island: Nurturing Environmental Leaders Through Storytelling

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

By Lauren Ritchie

“Home weeps forth, the tender willow

Woven braids like mine, a common root

To press and tear a bleeding wound,

yearning for a poinciana to bloom..”

Madison Adderley, Age 16

For two weeks amidst the pink sands and turquoise waters of Eleuthera, I had the opportunity to work with girls on poems about their island. Together, we marked the pages with a green pencil, revisiting sections, refining the rhythm, and shaping the message. In Madison, I glimpsed my sixteen-year-old self, witnessing her voice emerge and her confidence as a storyteller and environmental advocate grow. At the end of camp, she and many others shared that the two weeks gave them a safe space where they could express themselves freely, without judgment. It’s an environment we all long for, and one that we were grateful to create with See My Island.

See My Island was a unique two-week storytelling and climate action camp designed for Bahamian girls, ages 11-16, to explore marine ecosystems and learn how to communicate how their home is changing through photography, creative writing, art, and film. The camp culminated in an evening showcase of the girls’ projects to their friends, family, and community.

As the Future Rising Senior Fellow, I had the privilege of bringing this idea to life through a collaboration between the Sean Connery Foundation, The Island School, and Girl Rising's Future Rising program. These organizations share a deep-rooted commitment to education, conservation, and supporting the next generation of environmental justice leaders. Girl Rising launched Future Rising in 2021 upon recognizing the disproportionate impact of climate change on girls and the transformative potential of girls' education in addressing the crisis. The heart of the Fellowship lies in the power of storytelling—a power I have witnessed firsthand in igniting social change, forging deep understanding, and expressing agency.

This is the very essence that formed the heart and soul of See My Island.

Camp participants arrived with an already solid foundation in marine conservation and climate science. Many were strong swimmers who loved the ocean, and quite a few were diving certified. This allowed them to immerse themselves in underwater ecosystems, particularly their colorful, cherished coral reefs that face threats of bleaching due to warming temperatures. Through interactive workshops led by women scientists from the region, they deepened their environmental knowledge and delved into the world of mangroves, hurricanes, coral conservation, and sustainable fisheries. "Mermaid" Tonia Ferguson showed off her tail and encouraged them to find creative ways to educate others about marine biology.

Complementing the scientific exploration, See My Island also offered workshops in environmental poetry, photography, filmmaking, and art, under the guidance of the Future Rising team, and alongside Bahamian artists like Tanicia Pratt (poetry), Shorlette Cartwright (art using recycled glass), and Verda Gardiner (upcycle fashion). We also invited Bahamian gender justice activist, Alicia Wallace, to lead a discussion reflecting on girls’ experiences and the social expectations placed on them. The girls blossomed in these sessions and meeting local artists who drew inspiration from The Bahamas’ unique natural resources and rich cultural heritage encouraged the girls to embrace their own distinct voices and perspectives.

The outcome of the camp was a diverse range of storytelling projects that showcased the girls' remarkable creativity, climate awareness, and individuality. From poems to sculptures and short videos, their work offered me a fresh, soul-stirring perspective on my island nation, inspiring me to view it through new eyes and reenergizing me to protect its future.

Equipped with newfound skills, confidence, and knowledge, these young leaders are poised to tackle urgent social challenges with innovative solutions, making a lasting impact in The Bahamas and beyond. It was a privilege to learn with them, nurture their creative talent, and encourage them to unabashedly share their ideas and opinions because we will all benefit tremendously from hearing what they have to say.

As part of the Future Rising Fellowship for the past two years, I’ve seen the transformative power of stories hands-on. Stories bridge information gaps, cultivate empathy, and create an archival record of advocacy for people and the planet.

The climate crisis is not just a matter of numbers—it is personal, with a human face, a girl’s face. Together, their voices and narratives will resonate far beyond the sands of Eleuthera, galvanizing change and shining light on the path towards a sustainable future for all.

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