(I had the chance to briefly share my story at The Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Manila this afternoon. This is how I intended to share it, but the actual was a bit different. It was an honor to be introduced by Climate Reality Board Member Don Henry who I had the privilege of meeting in the Asia Pacific Climate Reality Leadership Congress in Melbourne in 2011. Meeting Climate Reality founder and chairman Al Gore at the back stage was so surreal, but that’s another story.)
I’m a farmer’s daughter. My father took pains to send us to school and not spend a day of work in the farm. But as a child I loved climbing trees and taking showers in the rain and daydreaming. However, my father’s dream for me was to set me out to make something of myself. And despite some detours, I found myself teaching in college and taking up a masters course. I was actually on my way. But I was burned out.
Until an NGO saved me. It was Sagip Pasig Movement, or Save the Pasig River Movement, a grassroots organization to rehabilitate the dead river that flows out of the beautiful Manila Bay just outside this hotel. My love for the environment definitely did not start at SPM. But that was where I realized what I really wanted to do. My father wondered why I would exchange a secured future in the academe with a low-paying NGO job. He was terrified that I would be poor all my life. And I can understand that. Our fathers love us, and they only want the best for us. But for me it was one of the best decisions I made. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, it’s a wonderful, noble job. But that is not the path set out for me. From then there was no looking back, and I made a career and life around making things a little better for the environment.
I have always felt that there is something greater being asked of me. So when the chance to be a climate leader came up, I went to attend the training in Jakarta in 2011. Being a climate leader has provided me so much opportunity to be inspired by what people do every day for Mother Earth: young people, professionals, businessmen, local government officials, civil society workers who initiate projects and do things that create ripples for humanity and the earth. These things keep me going.
Some of you have organized my climate presentations in key cities all over the country. And as you join me now in this fight, I have a challenge for all of you. I think as leaders we have to raise the bar. We have to live our life as a testimony to our causes and advocacies. To be fully present, to take risks and go out of our comfort zone to demonstrate what is possible. We have to be the proof of concept. So everything I am doing now, like being vegan, fasting, biking, working with Haiyan-affected communities, giving climate presentations and campaigning for my Disposable Bottle Busters initiative, are because I have awakened to a different call of nature.
In October 2011, I had the privilege of participating in the Asia Pacific Climate Leadership Congress in Melbourne. What struck me was something bestselling author Paul Hawken said. He said, “You don’t create change by changing things, you create change by changing.” I think the quote is very powerful, because it says we are the ones accountable for change. It doesn’t transfer the responsibility to others. The last word is also very powerful, being in the progressive tense, showing that we are works in progress, and that by changing, we can also help change the world.
Looking back now, I’m wondering if I was saving the Pasig River, or if it was saving me. As environmentalists and climate activists, we might think we are trying to save the earth in trying to solve climate change. But Mother Earth is really trying to save us. The truth is, we are the only dispensable specie in the planet. With any little creature gone, the fragile balance of life tilts. Climate change is real. And if we want to survive, we need to go out there and empower people with the truth that the climate crisis is a reality. And that we can change the story, by living out the challenges of being a leader and spreading climate hope. And together we can change climate change.
Last week, during my mom’s birthday, I talked to my parents on the phone. I told my father that I would be mentoring for this training. And for the first time, I really felt he understood why I became an environmentalist. It seems it finally dawned on him why I took such a leap 15 years ago. He told me he’s very proud of what I’ve been doing. And that affirmation is worth all of the difficulties I went through.
I’m Shiela, a farmer’s daughter and I still love climbing trees and daydreaming. And thank you for dreaming of a better world with me.