#WAHINEWEDNESDAY: She's the sea of change
E Wen Wong
E Wen is our next Y25 member to share a little bit more about herself and all her amazing endeavours! She is passionate about solving global issues and understanding the geography which underpins them, using poetry to inspire others to become kaitiaki of our environment. Currently studying law, environmental science and geography, she’s carving a pathway to use geographical insights, problem-solving skills and courage to benefit our natural environment. As a member of Bow Seat’s Future Blue Youth Council, E Wen uses her leadership skills to communicate environmental issues, explore the intersection between science and art and inspire other young people to make positive environmental change. At 13, she founded P.S. Our Beaches (Plastic Solution for Our Beaches) and has been coordinating tree plantings, beach clean-ups and conferences in New Zealand, Canada and beyond including the EnviroPAST conference.
Get to know E Wen with some quick-fire questions!
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS?
Energetic, empathetic, eccentric.
WHAT DOES YOUR DREAM DAY LOOK LIKE?
My dream day would allow me to be like a sponge. Soaking up knowledge from university, experts, and peers, before squeezing that knowledge back out and sharing it with other rangatahi. Nothing beats getting to know people and hearing the interesting insights and ideas that they bring to the table.
My dream day would also feature a run or bike through our beautiful natural landscapes, with creativity woven throughout - whether that be through playing my oboe or airing my thoughts through poetry.
I try to make every day my dream day!
FAVOURITE THING TO DO WITH FRIENDS?
Being spontaneous and discovering hidden gems in our cities. Nerding out on this one, but I also love pulling out the bean bags, reading good books, and exchanging recommendations. This always seems to give rise to deep chats about big issues and innovative solutions which is a great way to challenge ideas and be curious. I always enjoy leaving conversations with more questions than I have answers, and this is a great avenue to do that.
TELL US HOW YOU GOT SO INVOLVED WITH ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM?
The seed was planted through Future Problem Solving. For context, Future Problem Solving is an academic programme which develops creative, critical, and caring thinking skills. Students confront hypothetical scenarios on global issues set 30-40 years into the future. The 2013 national finals was centred around plastic in our oceans and, in the space of two hours, our team identified challenges, an underlying problem, and solutions to a bleak scenario depicting a world overrun by plastic dependence and overconsumption.
This experience made me think critically about the environmental challenges we collectively face and how important it is to take action.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED OR EXPERIENCED?
Self-doubt would definitely be a challenge. I’m very cognizant of the fact that I am not an environmental expert and I do not possess all knowledge on the subject matter. This can feed into situations where I doubt whether I am the right person to be delivering these initiatives. I am learning to overcome this by reminding myself that, by taking action, I am imparting at least some knowledge to my community. The alternative is no action which is not a valid alternative at all!
Discrimination relating to racism and neurodiversity have also been challenges that have persisted throughout my life, yet it has only been more recently that I have tried to take action. It is so easy to overlook and avoid confronting these situations, especially when you have been othered. Looking introspectively at my experiences has made me determined to play a part in reducing discrimination, for example through advocating for stronger support for gifted learners or using poetry to share my thoughts and personal experiences. As with most things, this is a work in progress and these issues are still challenges that I am working to overcome.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE PROJECTS YOU HAVE GOTTEN INVOLVED WITH?
So many! My top three would be EnviroPAST, the Future Blue Youth Council, and environmental poetry workshops in schools. The workshops are part of a newer project which combines science based presentations with practical workshops where students can creatively apply newfound knowledge through poetry.
EnviroPAST (Plastic and Sustainability Talks) is a youth conference which combines talks by experts in the field with interactive workshops and a practical action event like a clean-up or a tree planting. It is all about teaching young people about environmental issues in an accessible way, whilst encouraging them to leverage their learning with practical application. We held our second conference in mid-July and we will be returning in 2022 with two conferences, one in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington and another in Otautahi Christchurch. It is so rewarding to receive feedback as to how the conference, and other events, have influenced daily choices of other rangatahi. It makes the many hours spent more than worthwhile!
The Future Blue Youth Council is an international youth council which raises awareness about ocean issues and encourages young people to use art to advocate for environmental issues. We have recently designed, launched, and executed a global grant-making programme which funds and provides mentorship to young people leading projects that address water-related challenges. The people are what have made this project so fun to work on. We all come from different areas of the world, bringing different skillsets and perspectives, yet we are all connected in our commitment to ocean conservation.
TELL ME ABOUT WHY YOU STARTED P.S OUR BEACHES?
I was learning about plastic issues through Future problem Solving and soon realised something needed to be done. I recognised a lacking space for youth to connect and collectively take action on plastic pollution. I received a scholarship through Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs for my plastics-focussed poetry and put this to good use by kick-starting P.S. Our Beaches (Plastic Solution for Our Beaches). Now we run a host of activities such as tree plantings, beach clean-ups, workshops, and conferences. As P.S. Our Beaches continued to expand, EnviroPAST, as mentioned earlier, came to life.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I hope for a fairer and more livable world for all, and plan to pursue something that contributes towards that aspiration. One day I would love to work at the United Nations Environment Programme, which is so rooted in creating this desired future. Whether I end up in the field of Geographic Information Systems, Law, Policy, or something else, I want to continue to be involved with and support grassroots movements and to weave creativity throughout my life and work.
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
It is a strength to be a square peg in a world full of round holes. I would tell myself to dig a square hole, plant a seed in it, and watch it grow.