LIKE many 12-year-olds, Luca Berardi enjoys learning about science and playing outdoors. He also loves animals and likes to sing.
But Luca is not your average kid. He is a young environmental activist and a walking, talking conservation success story.
At the age of eight, Luca founded an environmental organization called Young Animal Rescue Heroes (YARH) after reading about endangered animals in a library book. Four years later, he has successfully networked with multiple conservation groups to expand YARH’s mission, which now includes sustainable waste management, environmental education, and community outreach.
After growing up in Italy, Thailand, and Romania, Luca moved with his family to Nairobi, Kenya where he currently resides. His mother, Mary Marete, says the move to Kenya inspired Luca’s interest in conservation.
Upon founding YARH, Luca began to actively promote sustainability and recycling in Kenya. Luca collects and sells waste paper from schools and offices in Nairobi to the waste management giant Chandaria Industries to be recycled. He also sells used juice cartons to the company Eko Tech, which recycles the containers to make dustbins, building materials, and desks for schools.
Luca donates most the money YARH raises from recycling to the Kenya Wildlife Service, a state conservation organization that combats poaching and protects vulnerable wildlife habitat. He uses the remaining money to buy books for underfunded schools.
YARH also runs workshops to promote environmental education in Kenya. The workshops rely on music, art projects, competitions, outdoor excursions, and guest speakers to convey the importance of wildlife conservation and community involvement. They also routinely include civic activities such as tree planting or community clean ups.
Luca also participated in the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos to raise awareness about poaching and the growing illegal trade of wildlife parts. He was joined on the 11 km walk by two hundred youths from YARH’s network of environmentally engaged students, who marched with him to demonstrate their generation’s commitment to saving endangered wildlife.
When asked about the biggest obstacles he has faced, Luca admits that he struggles with obtaining resources for YARH programs and laments that adults often don’t take him seriously.
According to his mother, “it’s difficult to get financial support, because they think ‘this organization was started by a kid, what can a kid bring to the table’. But when Luca has been invited to give speeches, they have been amazed that such kids exist. It is only then that they realize the potential of kids. These adults, they are always on the outside and they see what is happening, but they are missing everything.”
In addition to running YARH, Luca also has a blossoming performing arts career. So far, he has written a screenplay as well as three songs, one of which he performed at the UN’s headquarters in New York. Luca’s commitment to conservation is evident in his single “A Better Place”, in which he successfully blends his love of music and nature to convey a message of environmental stewardship. He also has plans for a TV program to teach students about wildlife while they learn English.
When he grows up, Luca wants to be a film director and a part time zoologist.
You can read the full transcript of my Skype interview with Luca here.
The Makings of a Child Activist
It’s easy to view Luca’s accomplishments as atypical or exceptional for someone his age. While Luca possesses a unique blend of self-discipline and wisdom beyond his years, his achievements were made possible by resources available to millions of children around the world:
Supportive parents and a stack of library books.
Luca’s desire to learn is not unique. Countless people can trace their love of science or nature back to an enthusiastic teacher, the scouts, or a childhood trip to the zoo. With exposure to the right resources and supportive mentors, anyone can learn to love the environment and become active in their community.
Environmental education is a powerful force for good. It has the power to inform and inspire children and adults around the world, and to shape public opinion.
Environmental education programs geared towards children have been shown to influence adult knowledge and behavior towards the environment. Children that learn about the importance of sustainable habits, such as biking, recycling, and energy conservation, are more likely to advocate for those practices in the home. Similarly, children who learn about ecological principles and the value of biodiversity are more likely to place a high value on environmental conservation later in life.
Much like Luca, students exposed to environmental education also tend to be more active politically and in their community.
Aside from access to educational resources, Luca owes his success in part to the tireless support of his parents. His mother works with him to run YARH, and helps him prioritize his conservation projects.
During our interview, Luca acknowledged the role his parents have played in his achievements, offering a word of advice to parents around the globe: “support your child or they will get discouraged and they won’t get the opportunity to do what they want to do in life, whether that is to be an environmentalist or a conservationist or beyond. Always help your child to achieve their dreams.”
What YOU can do
From promoting recycling to raising awareness about wildlife crime to giving back to the local community, Luca has arguably achieved more measurable conservation success than any other 12-year-old. As he becomes a teenager this year, Luca acknowledges that his work is just beginning.
You can help to build upon Luca’s fantastic conservation work in the following ways:
Connect with YARH – Luca has already networked with several organizations, but he is looking to expand the reach of YARH with your help. He hopes to connect with groups of students around the world via Skype to promote cultural exchange and inspire environmental activism. If you are interested in requesting a cultural exchange with Luca or have resources, ideas, or helpful suggestions to offer YARH, please connect with Luca on Facebook or twitter, or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embrace Education – Inspire the young people close to your heart by providing access to educational resources. If your child expresses an interest in animals, take them to the zoo, museum, or library. Introduce your niece or nephew to educational TV shows such as The Magic School Bus or Planet Earth. Talk with your grandchild about what they learned at school. Connect with them on a personal level, be perceptive to their interests, and nurture their passions.
Get Involved – Lead by example. Join environmental groups such as the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, or the World Wildlife Fund and attend local events they host. Volunteer at your local zoo or national park, or help with stream clean up, invasive species removal, or tree planting efforts. Conservation groups often need as much manpower as they can get, and by becoming active in your community, you become an agent of change and inspire others to give back as well.
- Read the full interview with Luca Berardi, founder of YARH
- Young Animal Rescue Heroes mission statement and how you can contribute
- How to Get Your Kids Involved In Conservation
- 5 Conservation Programs that Help Kids Connect with Animals and Nature