Lacombe Composite High School student Sara Thornhill is thrilled to be heading to Dubai next month for an environmental youth leadership summit held in tandem with the United Nations COP28 conference.
Thornhill, 16, is very much involved with Lacombe Composite High’s long-running and incredibly innovative EcoVision environmental club as well.
She’s also a part of a youth organization called #DECARBONIZE, and was ultimately selected by the Centre for Global Education (#DECARBONIZE is the organization’s youth branch) to represent the youth voice of Lacombe on climate change during the summit overseas.
The event runs from Dec. 2-11.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to meet young people from all over the world who have their own separate, and very unique, climate stories, and also for the chance to put my own voice out there by meeting government leaders and people who want to hear the voices of youth from around the world,” said Thornhill, who is in Grade 11.
“We will be spending a day at COP28 as well, where we will be listening to more speakers and meeting people who have a big say in what goes on there,” she said.
This past spring, Thornhill helped to write a youth climate manifesto paper, and it was presented in May to federal government leaders,” she said, referring to what helped open to door for the Dubai experience. “It’s where I also learned more about this trip coming up.”
She knew straight away it was an event she wanted to be a part of.
“They were looking for more people to go and I said that I would be interested.” And so plans started to take shape. “They also chose people who they thought would benefit from this trip.
She and Steve Schultz, a science teacher and the founder of the EcoVision program, will be attending.
Schultz said students like Thornhill have the courage and passion to really tackle and stick with the stream of projects students have been exploring through EcoVision.
“Sara has discovered her strengths, she’s discovered her passion, and she is doing something about it,” he said “It’s like a river. A lot of people go with the flow, but individuals like Sara are courageous, and they are willing to go against that flow.
“I’d also like to mention that Sara is a really powerful spokesperson for the youth of our city, and of our province.”
Just this past October, Thornhill took part in the Extreme Hangout Rocky Mountains event in Canmore with #DECARBONIZE, which was a showcase for diverse youth perspectives on current climate issues affecting their communities.
“Sara gave a Ted-style talk at this, and spoke to an audience of thousands of people around the world,” he said, adding the talk is available to view on Youtube.
“She also presented to more than 200 teachers in Canmore, and got a standing ovation.”
Looking back, Thornhill said she wasn’t fully aware of this passion she has for environmentalism prior to joining EcoVision, which has launched groundbreaking and award-winning programs since its inception in 2006.
“I just go so involved. It was like falling head first into environmentalism,” she said, adding that unfortunately, youth such as herself who care about environmental issues can often feel like a minority.
“Through this environmental route I’ve been going down, through talking about it, and speaking about it, you get to meet so many people who feel the same way, and who want to do something to help,” she said.
“It lessens that feeling of being alone. And through EcoVision, I’ve met so many people who are my friends now, who I have very similar passions with because of this program.
“It’s honestly become a huge part of my life. It’s very, very important to me. I’ve met so many people who are now my best friends, and have this one special place in my heart.”
Schultz said it’s really like a seed, that when planted in the right environment, goes on to thrive.
“Sara is thriving because she has found an environment that supports her.
“And now, she’s at the stage where her voice is being amplified because she is now influencing others towards action. This is an opportunity in Dubai, not only to meet like-minded people but to also influence others to take this action which is so necessary back to their own schools.
“She’ll be talking to other students and teachers, and hopefully inspiring them to influence change,” he said.
Meanwhile, Thornhill is hoping to raise $2,500 to help cover airfare, accommodation, food, and supplies before Nov. 30.
Those interested in helping her out can visit her GoFundMe page.
Upon her return home, Thornhill and Schultz will also be holding a presentation at the high school on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m.