Your typical summer camp involves running around outdoors, reapplying sunscreen and scream singing the same 10 campfire songs. Rodala Aranya thought she’d take the classic summer camp model and add a climate twist. Kids4Climate (K4C) asks kids to “reimagine the future” and explore how they can use their voices for an equitable, sustainable and climate-resilient future. 

We sat down with Rodala who is one of the six female co-founders of Kids4Climate to ask her a few questions as the summer winds down. It is fitting Rodala worked with a team of all women on this project as she received a Leacross scholarship for her expedition. The Leacross Foundation’s mission is to educate women in girls in STEM fields to overcome bias and find success. Sounds like Rodala is a perfect example of success!

Rodala, thanks for chatting with us! First off, how’s your summer been?

Filled with so much adventure! I’ve really tried to take this summer and make the most out of it. A lot of my time has been working on Kids4Climate, and with that, I have tried to consciously spend a lot of time outside and enjoy the weather. Lots of online meetings, taking care of my plants, and brainstorming activities for the camp! Then came the actual two weeks of camp, which were honestly the highlight of my summer!

    Did you grow up going to summer camp? What made you and your co-founders want to start your own?

    Growing up, I never actually went to summer camp, not once! I wish I did, and maybe that’s part of the reason that I had a pull to create something like this. Our “origin” story is pretty random and funny to look back at. I remember being at home during winter break last December and seeing how hard it was for my cousins to be at home all the time. They were missing out on being able to connect with other kids and socialize due to the pandemic and were nervous that their summers would be exactly the same. Thinking back to my childhood summers, I remembered all the fun things I was able to do and the people I was able to see. I wanted that for my cousins as well. 

    The idea of a virtual camp popped into my head! But I knew there was something missing from the idea – what would the camp consist of? This led me to think about what I was passionate about, and it took very little time for me to come to the conclusion that a virtual summer climate camp may be the answer! The more I thought about it, I realized that kids are a big target group that are usually left out of conversations about the climate- usually when we talk about engaging youth, we mean people ages 18-30 years old. Now more than ever, kids are dealing with high amounts of climate-anxiety. They care about preserving the environment and often they lack the resources and tools needed to create change in their communities. So, I picked up my phone, and facetimed five good friends (Gemma, Amaya, Havailah, Laura and Aishani) who I knew would be on the exact same page as me – and they were! Two weeks from that day, we had our first meeting, and the rest is history!

      You joined us on the Arctic 2018 expedition. How has your expedition experience and SOI shaped and supported you since then?

      The Arctic 2018 expedition has impacted me in so many ways, and continues to do so to this day. I think I am still suffering from expedition blues and sometimes I feel as if the whole trip was a dream! The places I went, the people I met and the things I have learnt have stayed with me to this day. It was on expedition that I truly was met face to face with the future of our Earth and the people and animals on it, and I knew that I wanted to spend my life trying to create a system that would value the land, people and animals first and foremost. The expedition opened a new world to me, a place where individuals came together to fight for their future! 

      Since then, SOI has supported and provided me with so many resources. The network I have become a part of inspires me every single day. SOI actually awarded K4C with our first microgrant, and was very eager to provide any additional resources we needed. I am so grateful for this community and SOI.

        I have learnt that my work will not stop me from finding a place in the world for myself, but that I must also do my part to create these spaces for those who are left out. 

        Your SOI expedition experience was funded by the Leacross Foundation whose mission is to support young women in STEM. Did Leacross inspire you in any way?

        If it were not for the Leacross Foundation, I would have never been able to experience the SOI 2018 Arctic Expedition. Meeting the other Leacross girls, and later getting introduced to the network of Leacross Alumni has really shown me what women are able to achieve if they are believed in and supported. While I am not directly in STEM, a lot of my work intersects, and I have seen the gap there is with women in STEM, especially BIPOC women. This is why it is so important to create spaces and provide opportunities to groups who are underrepresented. I have learnt that my work will not stop me from finding a place in the world for myself, but that I must also do my part to create these spaces for those who are left out.

          How important is it to see other women in positions of leadership? Did you have any female mentors or leaders who inspired you?

          Being able to look around the world (especially in fields that you are in) and see people who look like you and have many of the same identities as you, is so important. It can be really tough to engage in a world that wasn’t built for you to succeed. This goes just beyond my own identity as well. That is why it is really important to me that I am seeing a wide array of representation and intersectional identities taking up positions of leadership and creating new spaces that are built on empathy, awareness, and inclusivity for everyone. 

          Throughout my life, I have been so grateful to have formed meaningful connections with female mentors who have both inspired and pushed me to take my passions and turn it into action. My first female mentor, Jebunessa Chopula, was a member of my Bengali community in Saskatoon. She always urged me to pursue my love of dance and advocacy, and to this date has been one of my biggest supporters. On the SOI expedition, I met the woman who has paved my climate journey so far, Dominique Souris. Following the SOI expedition, I moved to Ottawa for school, and one of the first people I met up with was Dom at a coffee shop downtown. I remember sitting down and chatting with her about her amazing organization, Youth Climate Lab, and just being completely inspired by her! Here was a young woman who had co-founded her own organization and was doing such amazing work in the climate sphere, advocating for a more sustainable future – that meant I could do that too. And lastly, there is no one who inspires me more than the women that I surround myself with daily, my friends, family and lastly, my amazing co-founders who have shown me what amazing things can come out of passion, empathy and hard work.

            A lot of young people are often intimidated to get started or don’t know what to do. What advice would you give to other young folks looking to take on leadership roles in their communities?

            Being a young person wanting to step into a leadership role is one of the most intimidating experiences ever! My advice would be to take the leap and just start with baby steps in whatever you want to do! Even if that’s a first coffee shop meeting or penciling in an hour each week to work on a draft of your project. The only thing that will truly make a difference is if you just start! The most amazing thing about starting something yourself is you can create your own goals and expectations, which allows you to set small benchmarks for yourself. And worst case? You “fail” the first time, learn from it, and start again! I am a big believer of “failing forward”. 

            I would also say it’s really important to have a good support system. That could mean working alongside other people or securing a mentor who can help guide you. I know that for me our mentors at K4C made the biggest difference in the trajectory of our work. Beyond that, it is such a mental game and there is an ever-lasting effect of imposter syndrome that I know plagues a lot of youth. We belong in spaces of leadership, we have the right to a say in our communities, and we deserve to be supported as we try to build and preserve our future. 

              I’m sure the kids at your camp have learned so much, but in the process have they taught you anything about your own climate journey?

              Yes, definitely! Me and the rest of the girls have been talking about how much the kids at camp have impacted us. It is so amazing to see the passion, empathy and resilience these kids hold within themselves. They truly want to take care of Earth and the animals, plants and people on it. They are so inspiring! For them, anything is possible, and what is wrong is wrong. Any issue in the world seemed to have an easy fix – why would people not want to make the best decision for the environment? From them, I have learnt the importance of individual concern and action, the power of collaboration and the strength of youth. I have left the weeks of camp feeling more inspired and ready to fight for my future than I ever have before. 

                What are your hopes for the future of Kids4Climate and Gen Alpha?

                Regarding Kids4Climate, it feels as if the possibilities are endless! We are already in talks of creating more structure within the organization, have brainstormed future projects (book clubs, school workshops, and online resource hub for kids, and so much more) and are looking to recruit more passionate members! When it comes to the generation following mine, I know that they are superstars, and honestly, I feel a sense of relief knowing that they too want to fight for a just, climate-resilient future. Gen Alpha is our future, but they are also our present, and the time to take action is now!

                  If you’re interested in learning more about Kids4Climate or registering your kid for next summer check out their great website for all the key info and to learn more about some of the key topics these kids are taking on.

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