While working on her Masters degree in 2019, Greshma Pious Raju had an amazing opportunity to do an internship with Earth Charter International, an organization located in the middle of a forest in Costa Rica. One afternoon, Mirian Vilela, the Executive Director, stopped working to step outside and observe a toucan. While this might have been an everyday occurrence for Ms. Vilela and her team, it was the moment that would change Greshma’s life forever.
Inspired to spend more time with nature and reflect upon the Earth Charter principles, an ethical framework for sustainable development, she began to see how the simple act of being in nature allows us to become more peaceful humans. Greshma did not know it yet, but this would be the first step on her path to creating a program that would touch the lives of future generations.
Believing that people had lost their connection to nature, Greshma returned home to India – a place that had faced many natural disasters – after graduation with a desire to remind people within her community about the value of caring for the environment. Her idea led to working with schools but, shortly thereafter, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Unsure of how to move forward, Greshma knew one thing for certain, she wanted to inspire the younger generations to observe nature with love and share that love with their communities. An idea began to take shape and, after attending the Peace Practice Alliance program organized by the Euphrates Institute, she set out on a new path utilizing online spaces to build communities for teens, and the Ecopeace Teen Cafe was born.
The Ecopeace Teen Cafe is an online project run in collaboration with the United Religions Initiative and Earth Charter International that trains participants in many areas including: community building, environmental conservation, social justice, and peacebuilding, to name a few. The goal is for participants to dialogue with people of different religions and cultures all over the world in order to develop empathy and respect for diverse communities and our planet.
With a grant from The Pollination Project, Greshma was able to pay for the internet as she designed a website and grew her social media presence to connect with teenagers. As she built the program, she found the courage to do new things from developing graphic design capabilities to improving her communication and leadership skills. She’s even creating a magazine for the participants to showcase their incredible work at the end of the program. All of this has helped Greshma to find more compassion for the needs of her students.
On October 2nd, with thirty participants and the support of ten volunteers, the Ecopeace Teen Cafe officially began. This particular program – a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi – meets every Saturday. The teenagers connect with international experts who share their knowledge about topics ranging from indigenous culture and environmental conservation to equality and equity. These participants are given the rare opportunity to look at things from a new perspective – a global perspective – and dialogue about these issues. They learn first-hand about things happening in other parts of the world, things they wouldn’t learn in a textbook.
After the sessions, Greshma gives assignments that help students to expand their thinking; for example, she might ask them to share how they are thinking about something like climate change as it relates to their community and the world.
“I encourage our participants to look at a local problem and I ask them to think about how it affects their family and community. It’s ok, I tell them, you can do big actions but it starts at home. Start your advocacy at home and use your voice to talk about sustainable practices with your family. Then from the family, it moves out to the community. Begin with your mother and father, share your knowledge and you will make contributions that change the world.”
When the program concludes in February, these young participants will become Ecopeace Ambassadors. Using their leadership and public speaking skills along with their extensive knowledge of global issues, they will continue to share more and develop ideas that will better our society and our world. This beautiful program proves that when you start small – a seed of an idea or advocacy at home – you have the power to grow something that will not only change the world today, it will change the world for generations to come.