OzGreen's Sue Lennox with one of her Youth Leading the World river health students.
OzGreen's Sue Lennox with one of her Youth Leading the World river health students.

Nurturing youth for change

SENIORS are walking side-by-side with much younger generations as they tackle sustainability solutions that are impacting the lives of all ages.

Their leader is environmental educator Sue Lennox, NSW's 2020 Senior Australian of the Year nominee and co-founder of the non-profit environmental action organisation OzGREEN.

"As elders I think we have a huge responsibility to be stepping up to tackle this," Sue, 67, said of her generation.

"I think they have a responsibility to make a difference in this conversation and that is why I am turning my energy to my generation.

"We have life experience and we have valuable understanding; we need to bring that to tackle this huge challenge that we face.

"Some people say what we actually need to do is treat it almost like World War II; we actually need to re-engineer our society as if we are getting ready for war.

"That's the level of change we have got to do. There are elders that have that experience, have lived that."

Within OzGREEN's main program, YOUth LEADing the World, there are local facilitators aged from 14 to 70.

It's a participative program that aims to equip young people within a local area with the solutions and tools to tackle sustainability and to drive change.

"We have many grandparents who have stepped up and retired professionals who want to put energy into this," Sue said.

"What I love is I hear consistently from the young people that they don't want to work in a completely youth-run program."

The young ones were still the leaders, she said, but they were voicing how much they valued the input of adults and other older people.

Down the south coast in Illawarra, far from Bellingen on the north coast of NSW where Sue sits in her car busily fielding phone calls and emails while talking about her outstanding OzGREEN programs, she talked about a new program called Green Shoots, which is gaining momentum.

All around there the summer bushfires have hurt the communities.

Young and old are stressed and distressed by what they saw, right in front of them, as the killer bushfires ravaged their land and animals.

"It's about helping young people understand what is going on in the world and then walk with them as they shift from that sense of despair into one of using that energy to become change leaders and work passionately for the kind of world they want to be part of," Sue said.

From learning about what is happening in their community and how they can change it for the better, the young people are being encouraged by their facilitators to come up with their own strategies and actions for change.

"The local facilitators then walk beside (the young people) as they implement their plans," Sue added.

"This group of young people are coming up with the most outstanding and impressive work.

"I am thinking, all right, I am going to have to recalibrate my sense of what is possible."

Sue plans to run this new leadership program in up to 50 communities, all of which have been impacted by the bushfires over the past months.

OzGREEN is looking for this program to have more facilitators and supporters, including seniors.

Time to step up

The former teacher of 30 years is becoming increasingly alarmed by what was thought could happen in the future, but really, she said, it was happening now.

Youth are the key to the future, but Sue also admits her generation, that is seniors, needs to now step up and become involved in change for the better.

Sue wants seniors to start meeting regularly, perhaps once a month, to talk about what they can do to protect their local environment and how they can implement change.

"Our air, water, food, climate, energy, waste and even our health - all of the things we need to sustain our lives," Sue said.

Coined Living Communities, Sue said: "I am looking for partners, for community people and organisations that see this as a great idea and want to partner with OzGREEN."

Being prepared for the worst

Organising the community to deal with the changes we are experiencing in our environment and health is Sue's next challenge.

She has written a program, Fostering Community Resilience, around disaster preparedness; being prepared and working with your neighbours.

"It's not just about planning, it's also about learning," Sue said.

The program is currently being piloted in four NSW locations with the support of the NSW Office of Emergency Management.

"We will be training local people to work in their own communities," Sue said.

"I see there could be a really great role for seniors to play in this program. You might not be able to get out and fight fires, but you could certainly get organised in your local area and get your community together and work through this structured program.

"What we are looking for are partners and support."

Understanding the future

Sue believes that every senior needs to be informed about climate change, not by hearsay but by reliable, trustworthy sources, particularly scientific ones.

"We need to do due diligence," she said.

"We are living with it now, and it's only going to get worse.''

For more information or to contact Sue, go to ozgreen.org/contact.