MTRI is a non-profit co-operative with a mandate to promote sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation in the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve and beyond through research, education, and the operation of a field station.
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The EMPOWER! Project was being designed and delivered by a team of students, researchers, and educators here at MTRI and the surrounding community. We partnered with organizations like the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve Association and the Clean Annapolis River Project to engage and empower young environmental leaders in southwest Nova Scotia.
Using the three pillars for the United Nations “Man and the Biosphere” concept (conservation, sustainable development, and capacity buiding) as the guiding principles, we aimed to provide opportunities for youth in rural areas to become leaders in their communities. To do so, we developed a three-tiered approach:
1) facilitate a network of active youth and engaging opportunities
2) research rural outmigration and profile inspiring youth and businesses living in the biosphere
3) spearhead a conference at Kejimkujik National Park, where all involved can meet to learn and share their blossoming skill, knowledge, and passion!
To implement these goals, we employed junior high, high school, and university students throughout the year. We also worked with teachers and educators at local schools and other NGOs, to work together and create a united front.
There are dozens of amazing opportunities for youth to become engaged in environmental programs in southwest Nova Scotia. From 4H to Scouts, programs at C@P sites to National Parks, young naturalist clubs and library programs, not to mention school activities like the Canon Envirothon and the Canadian Geographic Geography Challenge.
Unfortunately not all teachers, students, and communities are aware of or have access to these programs. Under the umbrella of the biosphere reserve, we hoped to increase awareness of these programs that would engage and enlighten our young environmental leaders. We wanted to help them find volunteer, education, and job opportunities (VEJ) that would bolster not only their enthusiasm, but also their resume in their pursuit of becoming active members of vibrant communities. We provided web-fora, teacher training, and other opportunities to establish and proliferate our network of young environmental leaders in the biosphere. We did not reinvent the wheel, but rather got those in existence rolling!
MTRI hired students in the summer of 2009 through the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps with the help of funding from the Nova Forest Alliance and the Rural Communities Foundation. Shaun Allain and Lucas Mader worked on the three major components of the EMPOWER! Project, while Jessica Lohnes helped with research. Carter Feltham, Breagh Lane, Kyle Rawding, and Krystal and Hallie Mailman composed our "Market Team", who set up displays at farm markets in Caledonia, and around the biosphere reserve, to help promote MTRI and the EMPOWER! Project.
A meeting of the minds, the EMPOWER! Project Team at work
We know that young people are moving away from rural communities not only in southwest Nova Scotia but also all over the globe. We conducted some research to better understand why, and the answers already appear to be clear: our youth feel like there is no future for them in the country because there is no work, and there is nothing to do. They believe everything happens in the big city!
To showcase why this is not necessarily the case, we provided shining examples of inspiring youth, awesome organizations / opportunities, and innovative businesses that are enriching and contributing to their communities in rural Nova Scotia. We shared biographical profiles, descriptive information, and illuminating stories that break the bias of “city or bust” and inspired our up-and-comers to find ways to make a living in their hometown, or others like it. Click on the links to download a word-doc summary of each.
To culminate our activities and bring together the network of youth and organizations that we established, we delivered a conference from October 1 - 3, 2009 in Kejimkujik National Park. Students, teachers, and leaders from a diverse array of schools and groups attended this three day event where community members served supper, entrepreneurs entertained, and youth lead and learned about a variety of topics pertaining to the biosphere, and life in rural Nova Scotia. It only cost $25 per student to attend, and that included 2 nights of camping in the national park, food, activities, workshops, and entertainment. We hoped the students would return to their respective home communities and spread the word about the EMPOWER! Network.
The EMPOWER! Youth Retreat team, in Keji, on October 2, 2009
Click on the thumbnail below to read an article published in local papers about the project.