International Youth Day, designated by the UN in the year 2000, is celebrated every Aug. 12 to recognize young people living around the world and the distinct issues that will affect the next generation of world leaders, activists, and Global Citizens.
Keeping in mind the 270 million people in urgent need of food aid and the enormous toll human activity has taken on the environment, the theme of International Youth Day 2021 is “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.” That’s because youth organizations and activists are at the forefront of fighting hunger and malnutrition.
Hunger is a tricky thing to measure. We produce enough food to feed every person in the world, according to the World Food Forum, but accessibility and affordability prevent that from happening. Even when food is accessible, there is a question of whether it is nutritious, particularly in regions of the world where food deserts keep people from enjoying diverse and healthy diets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the problem worse, as lockdown restrictions and a global recession disrupted food systems everywhere.
Climate change is another big threat to accessing nutritious food. As a warming planet continues to devastate the land we live on — resulting in heat waves, flooding, and forest fires — food systems are becoming increasingly unreliable. If we don’t adapt the current system to become more sustainable, world hunger is going to increase, and many more lives will be lost.
Young people are on the front lines of the struggle to build a better future for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek — and young people must be full partners in that effort.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Young people will inherit these global issues that have been building for years. But instead of waiting for the problem to become theirs to solve, they are taking action now, demanding world leaders defend the planet and defeat poverty with measurable policies, as well as starting their own initiatives to improve food security.
Here are five youth activists fighting the interconnected problems of world hunger and climate change that you can follow on social media. Let their work inspire you to take action in your own communities and abroad, no matter how old you are.
1. Kehkashan Basu, Canada
At just 21 years old, Kehkashan Basu has campaigned on issues spanning hunger, climate change, and gender equality for years, leading her to be recognized as one of Canada's Top 25 Women of Influence in 2018. This year, she participated in the Generation Equality Forum with other young activists as part of UN Women’s Generation Equality Youth Task Force, where she underscored the importance of recognizing intersectionality when fighting poverty.
“In developing regions, poverty, hunger, gender abuse, and inequality are all interlinked, and [my organization] essentially addresses their intersectionality to elevate them out of poverty while helping to restore their natural environment and biodiversity,” Basu told Global Citizen.
At age 12, she founded the Green Hope Foundation, which empowers vulnerable people — such as women and refugees — to implement sustainable agricultural practices. She believes that with more thoughtful ways of practicing agriculture, humanity can address the interconnected problems that stem from climate change.
“Unless we regenerate planetary health and restore nature’s balance, it will be impossible to solve global hunger,” Basu said.
2. Leah Namugerwa, Uganda
Seventeen-year-old Leah Namugerwa is an activist from Uganda fighting to make her home country, and the world, a more sustainable place for all people. In 2018, she learned of the high rates of hunger that people in Northern Uganda were experiencing due to drought and landslides, which were brought on by climate change.
She began striking on Fridays in front of the Ugandan Parliament, inspired by Greta Thunberg’s campaign Fridays for Future. Since then, Namugerwa has advocated for planting trees, banning plastic bags, and saving the Bugoma Forest to prevent the human consequences that will emerge from climate change.
3. Joshua Williams, United States
We are excited to announce that Joshua Williams is a finalist for the @MiamiChamber#2020HYPEAwards! This annual recognition honors our community's young professionals who have demonstrated outstanding achievements in their field. Congrats, Joshua!— Joshua's Heart (@joshuasheart) December 9, 2020
At just 4 years old, Joshua Williams knew that no one should be hungry. While walking with his mom, Williams gave his pocket money to a person experiencing homelessness and started paying attention to how widespread the problem of food insecurity is in the United States and other countries.
The organization that arose from his beliefs, Joshua’s Heart Foundation, distributes food and other types of aid to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Now at age 20, Williams’ activism has inspired other young people to take action to defeat poverty by volunteering and starting their open branches of Joshua’s Heart Foundation.
Follow Joshua Williams’ foundation on Twitter.
4. Webster Makombe, Zimbabwe
In 2019, Global Citizen spoke to Webster Makombe about his work to fight malnutrition in Zimbabwe by working with government leaders and organizations to prioritize access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food. Now, at age 21, Makombe followed up with Global Citizen to share how he has continued his activism.
“There was a huge drawback on some of the progress that had been made, however the [COVID-19] pandemic has been able to put some of the hunger and nutrition issues that we have been advocating for [in] the spotlight,” he told Global Citizen. “So, during the whole year of 2020 spilling into this year, I have been working on calling for the transformation of food systems and social behaviors towards food.”
Makombe is a core leader of the #Act4Change campaign, which demands government leaders implement sustainable agricultural practices to fight world hunger. He is also working on completing his education, with the goal of becoming a policy maker who prioritizes laws to end hunger and defend the planet.
“We as young people should focus on regenerative and sustainable agriculture, working towards nourishing people and [the] planet together,” Makombe said.
5. Sophie Healy-Thow, Ireland
Sophie Healy-Thow is a youth activist who focuses on improving access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food in undernourished communities. While studying International Development and Food Policy in Ireland, Healy-Thow is also a member of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN), which engages activists, organizations, and world leaders to end malnutrition to fight world hunger.
She also sees a clear connection between issues like gender equality, climate change, and world hunger, which inspired her to work on helping women in agriculture implement sustainable growing methods. Earlier this year, Healy-Thow addressed the interconnected problems through The Midday Snackbox, a podcast she produced with anti-poverty organization Concern.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defend the planet and defeat poverty by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.