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[email protected] Change inspires youth to confront violence, poverty and climate change

Suzanne Siemens during her talk. [email protected] Change's organizing team has provided the author of this post with all these photographs from event photographer Sukhraj Bhattal for use in this article.

On April 5, local speakers at [email protected] Change gave inspiring talks to youth at Science World. The stories they told -- about violent trauma, helping women in developing countries, and climate change -- were personal and moving. 

Breaking the bystander effect in the face of violence

Devon Brooks, a victim of assault, spoke of trauma, a phenomenon she described as being able to “change people's lives forever.”

Brooks noted a difference between sexual or violent trauma and other forms of trauma. In the case of sexual or violent trauma, Brooks said that the crime is “between people” — and that it has a greater potential to change one’s view of humanity.

After becoming a victim, Brooks faced what she describes as “denial in [her] social circle.” Her peers avoided the topic of her assaults, as if in doing so, they could make the reality of the assaults less real.

But Brooks did her research. According to her, one out of every three women will experience sexual violence in their lives. “We can’t live in fear,” Brooks emphasized. “We can’t ignore [trauma].”

"Trauma is closer to home than you think," said Brooks.

Yet, people do just that. Brooks’ living quarters had walls that were so thin that she could hear her neighbours as they brushed their teeth. Her second assault took place in these quarters. She screamed and screamed.

Nobody called the police.

“Nobody came over to see what was wrong,” Brooks stressed.

At least one of her neighbours was home at the time.

If you were her neighbour, would you have taken action? Although you might be thinking yes, Brooks begged to differ, giving the example of the murder of Kitty Genovese -- a young woman who was brutally stabbed to death outside her  home in Queens, New York. There were 38 witnesses to the crime. Only one called the police. It's often easier to think about something than to actually do something.

Though some claim that the case of Genovese is inaccurate, that doesn’t mean that people do not ignore crimes, hoping that someone else will deal with it.

Brooks’s speech reminded me of ABC’s What Would You Do? In the series, ABC sets up scenarios of injustice in public to see how everyday people will react. Though these acts often disturb members of the public, what many viewers find surprising is the large number of people who do not intervene.

Some readers may remember seeing in the news Chinese two-year-old Wang Yue ("Yue Yue") in late 2011. Two vehicles ran over the toddler. A total of 18 people walked by before she received help.

“We have to stop waiting for someone else. We have to lead the way."
— Brooks


Helping girls achieve their potential
Suzanne Siemens and Madeline Shaw, business partners at Lunapads International, had the audience picture life in countries without access to tampons.

“There’s no Shoppers Drug Mart, there’s no Walmart,” Shaw explained. So what do women do?

“Women stay home,” Shaw answered. Women miss school. They are more likely to be illiterate. They are less able to provide for themselves. They turn to marriage. They have children. They are less likely to know about their options — they have fewer options. Women who stay home because of their periods are often women who will remain in the poverty cycle.

If girls have feminine hygiene products, however, they are able to attend more school. That makes all the difference.


Siemens and Shaw partnered up with graduates from McGill University to help begin Afripads and give girls reusable pads. The business partners visited Africa and saw what their designs had done. 

“[The women’s] lives have been transformed. Their communities have been uplifted.”
— Siemens

Climate Change: having more is not always better

Selin Jessa spoke of how a trip to Antarctica changed her life. In the New Year, she visited a glacier. In 10 years, the glacier had receded by metres. Jessa witnessed the effects of climate change first-hand.

When she returned to school, she realized that she was probably “the only one in [her] classroom thinking about Antarctica.” She noted the capitalistic view that many people hold – that “the more [people] have, the happier [they’ll] be.”

She noted that this view didn’t always include the environment’s interests.

Jessa telling her story.

Jessa, however, holds a different perspective. She thinks of the world as a web – a web in which every person is connected. Jessa described people as part of the web — a part with the potential to reverse climate change for the better.

“Your every choice matters. Your every action matters. You matter. We are interdependent.”
— Jessa

The stories that I heard on Thursday – stories of overcoming ignorance and taking action – made me think about what people can and should do.

[email protected] Change was a chance for youth to connect with each other, a chance for youth to tallk, and a chance for youth to think about the change that they can create, whether – in the words of youth volunteer Daisy Lin – in themselves, or in their communities.

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