Youth takes on environmental challenges

Involved in environmental work since elementary school, Salina Kung is the recipient of this year’s Youth Award, one of the City of Burnaby’s Environmental Awards. From participating in elementary school cleanups to directing large waste campaigns, Kung has been heavily involved with environmental work since she was young.

Kung’s first experience with environmental work came in Grade 5, when she took part in a school cleanup. It was then that she realized just how much garbage was floating around the area.

“There was so much garbage around the school, an elementary school!” says Kung. “Kindergartners were actually getting cut from plastic and other garbage in the area. It was disrupting what kids were able to do on the playgrounds and at the school. There was garbage everywhere, and I thought we really should do something about it.”

She took matters into her own hands and, along with some friends, organized another cleanup not just for the school but for the surrounding areas as well.

“Along with a few parents we just went around collecting garbage,” says Kung. “Some of the younger kids joined in too, and it was really fun!”

Kung started hosting community cleanups at the school on Earth Day, inviting other grades to help, to great success.

When she was still in Grade 5, her teacher had a new project for her class.

“My teacher brought in salmon eggs,” says Kung. “We incubated them and took care of them until they hatched. It was a fun and unique way of learning about the salmon.”

In Grade 9, Kung wrote and sent an article to Environmental Defence Canada about her school’s efforts to save the declining salmon populations and the importance of salmon. It won first place in the youth article category, and Kung received an award and a grant, which she used to start her own salmon-raising project.

“Every year [in January] we’d bring in 50 salmon eggs and hatch them in a tank at our school,” says Kung. “We held workshops in other classes, raising awareness and giving a chance to have a hands on experience with the salmon.”

The salmon would be cared for until they were ready to live on their own.

Branching out

Salina Kung, winner of Burnaby’s Youth Award. | Photo by Norina Sun

Salina Kung, winner of Burnaby’s Youth Award. | Photo by Norina Sun

As president of the Green Team at Alpha Secondary, Kung oversaw the re-creation and maintenance of the school garden.

“We started the garden two years ago,” says Kung. “We’ve grown kale, peas, carrots, tomatoes, squash, raspberries and potatoes.”

The produce grown was used in home economics classes and eaten by the students. Over time, the completely student-run project has flourished.

“It was rewarding to see students work together,” says Kung. “It creates a collaborative culture between students, and that is crucial.”

Along with the work done at her school, Kung also serves as the president of the Burnaby Youth Sustainability Network. One of the network’s projects was an electronic waste campaign.

“We had kids collect electronic waste from their homes and other places and bring it to their schools. It was a hands-on experience to raise awareness of the waste and just how much of it there is,” says Kung.

Eco projects are created to provide as much hands-on experience as possible in an attempt to make it fun for everyone involved.

“It’s the best way to learn, and it’s not boring,” she adds.

Organizing and coordinating everything with so many people involved can be tough, but Kung says being able to work with people of all ages is worth it. To her, it’s about creating a close-knit community.

“What’s helped me succeed is the network of students, teachers, volunteers and sponsors, everyone who has helped me turn my ideas into reality,” she says. “The award isn’t mine. It’s everyone’s that I’ve worked with.”