The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Workshop was held on St. Thomas University and University of New Brunswick campuses on Oct. 21.
The workshop was one of 50 youth training events to be held across Canada this year by the UN.
The event was spearheaded by Jimy Beltran, a fourth-year student and vice-president student life for the STU Students’ Union.
“I wanted students to connect with issues of the world, but issues of the world that are affecting their communities as well … to try to find ways to make projects such as the SDGs a reality, because what else do we have?” he said.
“It’s crucial for all students to realize that and to take action … with the framework the UN has given.”
There were two speaker presentations in the morning, followed by skills development breakout sessions in the afternoon.
Approximately 265 university and high school students attended. Ten per cent of STU’s student body participated.
Steve Lee, climate change activist and policy advocate for the UN, opened the day. Lee broke down each of the 17 sustainable development goals and their development.
The seventeen goals are as follows:
Lee said the goal of the workshop was for advocacy and local implementation of the SDGs.
“The worst outcome that could come out of this event is that you spend the entire Saturday learning, talking and nothing actually coming out of it,” he said.
“These are tools to serve people.”
The creation of the SDG’s began in 1972. The idea of sustainable development was discussed at a UN conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Forty-three years later in 2015, the implementation and financing were approved.
Each goal has specific targets and indicators, which can be found on the UN’s Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.
Lee explained the five pillars surrounding the goals: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.
“These different aspects were not from the western countries or even developing countries. These were Indigenous principles from across the world of how we bring the world together, and how we need to think about the complexity of our lives,” he said.
Lee stressed the importance of looking at the goals as a whole and acknowledging one cannot be achieved without the others.
“You cannot achieve zero hunger without fighting climate change, without having empowered all women and girls … We have to work on all 17 together.”
Lee said the key to tackling these goals lies in individuals acknowledging their own strengths and goals, and then partnering strategically with others who have complementary skills working toward other goals.
Lee reminded students to always put “people and their stories at the centre of why we’re doing sustainable development goals in the first place.”
The second presentation was given by Julie Marshall, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme.
Marshall explained how its team is changing the way it operates to implement the SDGs.
“Our job is to feed people … We reach around 80 million people in 80 different countries every single year,” she said.
The WFP delivers emergency food assistance to countries, develops school meal programs and community nutrition plans for countries suffering food shortages.
This includes outreach programs where the organization goes to communities and finds out why they are hungry. The WFP then works with partners and communities to find a solution, whether that is providing tools to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in an environmental disaster or helping local farmers diversify crops.
“We use food to train people as well,” Marshall said.
She explained food is an incentive for people to attend learning and training sessions, specifically empowering women and small farmers.
“In countries where girls are not encouraged to go to school, if you introduced a free school meal, parents will tend to send girls in,” she said.
“It will increase enrollment, but it will also increase attendance. They will go every day.”
Marshall said school meals often cost about 25 cents daily per child, the byproduct being child education.
The WFP also introduced extra food rations for older girls to encourage them to stay in school longer rather than getting married so young.
She held up two foil packets, saying the contents were fortified with enough vitamins and minerals to last several days during a crisis.
Carbon footprints and lack of economic development in areas that need it most have made buying grains from North America unsustainable, she said.
“We’re using those dollars now to purchase food locally. If we need wheat or corn or rice for a school feeding program in a region we go within that region to purchase it, rather than shipping it across the world.”
Marshall said the WFP works to encourage women farmers to grow food and sell it in the local market. That was it can purchase that food for local food programs and sustainably develop the local economy and empower women.
“The whole idea [is] that we can step away from this picture and they would look after themselves … and eventually the mothers and the community would have the money for their kids not to need a school feeding program.”
Another step toward sustainability is the shift from delivering food to handing out cash, vouchers and pre-loaded debit cards so people can purchase their own food at local stores. They can get more fresh produce and help their local economy and agriculture.
“In the countries around Syria where we’re helping the refugees in this way, we’ve injected nearly $2-billion into the local economy.”
Training sessions were offered from 1 to 3 p.m. in Margaret Norrie McCain Hall and Marshall D’Avery Hall. They focused on leadership strategies, food security and the media.
Lee led a training session on advocacy that focused on how to engage with people and educate them on the SDGs.
“People are not going to remember talking to people so much,” said Lee.
“People remember doing things with people they care about.”
During the session, he gave the example of advocating for a $3 increase in student fees to help raise money for supporting SDGs. He explained the process to show how this advocacy target could be successfully reached.
He stressed that, in order for something like a referendum on increasing student fees to support the SDGs, a proper amount of time must be allotted to advocacy campaigning.
“Advocacy campaigning is a prerequisite for a successful referendum. If you can’t get people to understand the value of the SDGs people will never put money to it,” Lee said.
He ended by emphasizing the role that people have to play in advocating for the SDGs.
“We have a duty to help developing countries to develop sustainably because our ancestors robbed developing countries the very capacity to develop sustainably and it starts right here with the Indigenous community to around the world,” Lee said.
In another room, Chad Duplessie of Miramichi discussed community food security.
Students listened, questioned and engaged in important discussions concerning everything from the quality and nutrition of food provided in school breakfast programs to the stigma and stereotypes around students who use them.
“I remember going on the bus and my mom saying, ‘Don’t you dare go to that breakfast program. That’s not for you.’ And so I was like, ‘Okay, it’s not for me, it’s for all the poor kids and then when you get to school [and when you see the kids using it] it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s the 10 poor kids in my class,’” Duplessie said.
“That’s where the argument on the side of universal in-school food programs comes into play,” he said.
He stressed everyone always should have access to nutritious food.
Where do we go from here?
After the training sessions, students got into small groups, developing strategies and plans for implementing SDGs in the community.
One group focused on waste management, proposing limits on the amount of garbage bags each person per household uses and setting a fee if someone goes over the necessary amount.
Another group focused on poverty reduction, suggesting accessible employment training workshops so low income individuals can gain skills employers look for.
Students plan on taking what they’ve learnt from the workshops to educate others and engage with their communities to effect change.
“I’m hoping to do more community work, engage more people, push for sustainable methods and take care of the environment,” said Christine Ziegler, an environmental studies student at UNB.
Third-year STU student Emily Williams plans to educate and inform students who didn’t attend the conference.
“Education is the first step in the process … I definitely plan on telling everyone that wasn’t here today about the goals,“ Williams said.
Beltran described this conference as “just the first step.”
“The conference is just a first step in something much larger,” he said.
“[Students] had a lot of ideas, really innovative ideas, really doable projects. Now what is left is the determination and the interest from the students to continue to make these projects a reality.”