At just 18 years old, Paraguayan Danilo Estigarribia has become an example within youth networks fighting for climate change. In recent times, he has dedicated himself to participate in different institutions such as the 2020 Concausa Meeting and the Youth Network under the same name, in addition to the United Nations Youth program, which works to raise awareness about global warming. He is also one of the adolescents chosen a climate ambassador by the World Bank and will be part of the Youth Conference on Climate Change (COY-16).
Laughing, he confesses that he likes dancing a lot, but that his greatest interest lies in his activism for the environment and human rights, so despite his busy schedule, he still works as a volunteer for different causes within his country. With a trajectory that goes back to 2014, when he was 11 years old, today he faces the new challenges that the advance of the climate crisis brings with it, hoping to motivate the new generations to speak up.
“We need a systematic, cultural and personal change. We are in 2021, the last decade to really take action. It is no longer the time to be apathetic or say that it is not our concern, because (climate change) really concerns us all ”, he says.
– These recent times have been difficult for everyone. How have you lived it?
The pandemic has been (he pauses) ugly. Personally, I really like to always be active. 2019 was activity after activity added to school. It was a super year and I got used to that lifestyle, but suddenly, everything stopped, everything changed and everything moved to virtuality. It was a difficult moment, until today I still suffer from insomnia due to anxiety and it was emotionally complicated, even so, I managed to see it as an opportunity to work on new projects and today I can help in other ways.
– About your projects, how did you become part of Concausa and how was your experience?
When I was little I had a partner with a hearing impairment and she taught me the basics to be able to converse. I realized all the difficulties I had to learn and become part of our educational system, so when I heard about “Manitos”, which promotes the Paraguayan sign language to eradicate discrimination, I felt it was an opportunity to get involved.
This is how I joined my partner Sofía García, we applied to Concausa in 2019 and were selected, which helped us achieve a breakthrough. The same year I joined “1000 Actions for a Change”, an edge of the Concausa Network.
It was the first time that I saw so many cultures in one place. We were 15 countries, all very diverse even though we were from the same continent. The different perspectives create debates about the problems of each area and how the communities solve them according to each context. That is the plus of Concausa. In addition, an intergenerational group was formed and we learned a lot of things, I fully recommend it to everyone who is reading this (laughs).
– What do you think is the importance of Concausa?
It is a great platform to promote leadership in the region. Normally you see this participation in the north, in Europe or Australia, but here in the south we are often invisible. América Solidaria, UNICEF and ECLAC created a space to show our struggles and what we do for them. Concausa is leaving the comfort zone to see what really happens in this area of the world. All countries are affected by different needs and through Concausa we can strengthen our actions.
Danilo and his colleagues from the “Manitos” project during the 2020 Concausa Meeting.
Intergenerational work and adolescent participation
– How did you adapt to intergenerational work?
Before I listened to what the adult was saying and I thought “that person is right and my opinion is not valid because he (or she) is the adult”. In the Concausa network we learn that this is not the case, that we can also have an opinion and our voice has a lot of strength. It was not a challenge, it was rather a gigantic opportunity to grow and work on self-confidence.
– What would you highlight of the adolescent participation in these subjects?
I would say that our commitment is to continue doing what we think is right until we meet the goal. Many times projects are analyzed for a long time or are done simply as a procedure and there is conformity. What is needed are people who act with commitment, passion and energy, with new perspectives and without fear of innovation. I think youth has that.
– You are also part of COY 16, how did it happen?
As part of the Paraguay Climate Action Network, I received an invitation to join the global affairs working group at Youth. However, as this year’s conference will be in Glasgow, Scotland, I am looking for funding to be able to attend. And well, if it doesn’t work, I will still give my support in whatever is necessary. I am hopeful that Latin America will have the ambition to defend its interests and that it will recognize this opportunity for change. I also hope to be part of those changes.
– You are also a youth representative for the climate at the World Bank. Tell us about this collaboration.
My participation is thanks to the support of América Solidaria. Through the Concausa Network I received a call from the World Bank to apply as a climate ambassador, I tried and was selected to be part of the virtual program, with people from 150 countries. The innovative thing is that the environmental problem will be seen from an economic point of view and I don’t know much about that topic, so it will be a learning instance related to what I like the most, activism.
– Just before conducting this interview, you finished volunteering as a park ranger in Paraguay, what did you do there?
(Laughs) Yes, I came back a few days ago. Volunteer Park Rangers of Paraguay is an initiative of the Paraguayan Chaco Defenders Association, a very important green area within the country. Unfortunately it is not well maintained because there are not enough park rangers. I went to the Cordillera del Ybytyruzú reserve to help repair posters, collect solid waste and basically learn about wildlife.
Danilo, sitting in the center, during his last volunteer service in the Cordillera del Ybytyruzú, Paraguay.
– What do you think of public policies on caring for the environment in your country?
It does not reflect what you are really looking for, so I would say that we are currently wrong. Land is not valued and the speeches of politicians show that the focus is on exploiting our resources. The government is not treating the crisis as a crisis and the action does not come from the people who bear responsibility, but rather from the people. The people who wake up, who mobilize and do not conform, are the ones who act.
– What do you think should be the main drivers of change to improve the situation?
It would have to be a systematic change, we need a cultural change and for that we need a personal change. So, today they are necessary from small actions, from routine changes, to youth political advocacy. We are in 2021, the last decade to really act and avoid reaching more than 1.5 ° C of global warming. It is no longer time to be apathetic or say that this does not concern us because it really does concern us all.
– What would be your advice for young people who are trying to start an initiative or participate in a project in this area?
Ask for help. They will always hear “act, don’t be afraid”, but it is okay to be afraid, because we are human and we can be afraid, feel nervous. When you do a project to help someone you really have to understand that you also need support, whether it is from the community, an expert, or a friend.
It happens to young people because we don’t have enough experience and we feel that nobody believes in us. However, once you start, the support of other people comes in and it becomes easier to act.
– Do you have a message for the new generations?
That it is important to break the stereotypes that youth do not care about anything. Our generation is characterized by not conforming and getting involved in issues that correspond to them. It is very important to question our privileges and how they can use to help. Never hesitate to join networks that are already formed because with them it is much easier to reach people and say “look, I have the support of this institution”. Mutual help is important.