By Isabella Mendoza

While the Philippines celebrates massive sales on November 11 (11.11), it means something completely different on the other side of the world. 11.11.11., a civil society coalition based in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking Northern part of Belgium), was founded on the 11th day of November (the 11th month) at 11 o’clock, when thousands of volunteers mobilized for development in The Global South.

Every year on November 11, 11.11.11. launches a campaign that stretches across cities and regions in the country of Belgium. This year, the theme was Changemakers. ICSC was selected as one of their changemakers from The Global South, who traveled around the Flanders region in Belgium and shared real stories of both struggle and triumph from a completely different context. Thus began my 12-day immersion into every day and activist life in the developed world.

11.11.11be volunteers gather for a group photo after meeting the changemakers in a small town in West Flanders ©Isabella Mendoza/ICSC

I spoke with youth movements and student organizations that were still riding the wave of passion spurred by Greta Thunberg, but still a little unsure of where to direct that energy. On the flip side, we also visited community volunteer groups who were raising funds for various campaigns through creative activities and projects, as well as community-wide agriculture and adaptation initiatives being implemented by organizations and local authorities – from innovative coastal protection investments to community-supported agriculture and urban rooftop farming! Ingenious designs that stand as models to aspire for in building community and building resilience.

As a newcomer in the climate advocacy, this was my first time to engage directly with people on the other side of the world, with realities drastically different from ours. It’s important to note that while this was an international trip, my interest, and the focus of the trip, leans toward local perspectives.

Context. Context. Context.
The climate issue is a global issue. In many ways, it is an equalizer because while it may affect some more than others, no one will be spared from the rampage that climate change will bring over the coming decades. Yet, today the face of climate change is different everywhere. It was important for regular people, non-politicians, non-scientists, communities from a developed European country to hear the stories about Philippine realities for them to see that while their “privilege”, as they called it, has somehow shielded them from current realities, while other parts of the world are already at the onset of the crisis. I met students who threw out questions like “what do we do if climate change isn’t as obvious here?”, or struggling with the “blame narrative” of climate advocacy which leaves them feeling at fault because of their lifestyles. One prime example, I sat next to a 14-year old girl who boldly claimed, “I’m a privileged, white girl”, whether by social class, race, government support or other, which therefore allows her to adapt/survive in the changing climate.

At the same time, it was also an eye-opener to see what the local communities were experiencing (or not experiencing). However stark the difference, you realize that the difference in context at the most local level changes the how’s and why’s of climate action on all levels. There needs to be more opportunities to share not only global concepts and projections, but real stories so we know what life in this new climate reality is truly like, beyond our own bubbles of reality. Respecting realities of others gives you the information you need to act.

Look to the frontlines.
There was a community in Ostend, West Flanders that reminded me very much of the municipality of Guiuan, Eastern Samar. A coastal community whose local authorities and community volunteers have come together for resilience-building and a strong sense of community. These voices of innovative change and cooperation are the models we need to raise to show how localities can rise together. So, whether that means the passionate individuals in your communities who are making the effort in small but meaningful ways or local authorities in vulnerable communities who are investing in sustainable programs, look to the people at the frontlines of climate impacts and see, know, understand what it means and what it takes to survive and thrive.

Find your voice.
Last, but definitely not the least, engage. Within the household. Within the school. Within your community, across communities, across regions, countries, oceans. Among artists, writers, students, scientists, politicians. Between cultures, between governments, between humans and other living beings. Speak in the language that makes sense to the people you’re trying to reach because climate is every (wo)man’s issue, and everyone should have a say.

Students for Climate Brugges tinker with tie dye and talk climate at the Student Village in Brugges ©Isabella Mendoza/ICSC

In our work, we put an emphasis on the voices of the local communities, not only because they are most vulnerable, but because the strides they make can turn ripples into waves. Innovative local government units from Coron, Guiuan, Cebu, and Surigao are paving the way for cross-boundary cooperation that could change the way we adapt to our new climate reality. While we cannot forget the role that national and international dialogues play in that change, it’s the local initiatives and voices that draw the focus back to what’s real, what’s needed and what works. So, be a changemaker in your own right, your own way, and your own community.