Vancouver youth inspires sustainable action

We had no idea what we were doing,” says YWCA Young Woman of Distinction Award 2016 nominee, Tesicca Truong, “and that’s how I think most of these things start.”

Truong has been interested in environmental sustainability since high school and has since been a part of creating the Plan-It Earth conference, the Vancouver Youth4Tap movement and the VSB Sustainability conference. She was inspired in the tenth grade when she participated in the outdoor education program, TREK, where she learnt about sustainability, urbanization and globalization.

“I remember having this huge ‘AHA’ moment and being excited but frustrated, not really knowing how to feel about the fact that so many of these issues seem very pressing, and at the same time, this was the first time I was being exposed to it in an education system,” says Truong.

After realizing that her peers weren’t as informed as they should be, she and her friends decided to organize a conference to raise awareness on the subject called Plan-It Earth in 2010.

“It was all about urban sustainability and educating students after giving them a chance to impact decision makers. We brought in planners from Metro Vancouver and the city of Vancouver, and invited students to co-create visions of what a sustainable city looked like. Then [the students] present those visions and drawings to the planners so that they could pull out elements that they could actually implement,” she says.

Truong and her friends thought that “it was unfair that many of the decisions being made would disproportionately affect [them] and yet [they] were not involved.” After the second Plan-It Earth conference, Truong found that the impact of the conference wasn’t easy to recognize.

“It wasn’t really measurable. You couldn’t see in a way that was tangible,” says Truong. “And so, I took a step back and I tried to focus on something that could be concrete, so that I could actually see the impact of it.”

Bottled water: a pet peeve

SFU Honours Environmental Sciences student, Tesicca Truong, outside Lupii Cafe, a zero-waste coffee shop in Champlain Heights. | Photo by Janmie Gunawardena

SFU Honours Environmental Sciences student, Tesicca Truong, outside Lupii Cafe, a zero-waste coffee shop in Champlain Heights. | Photo by Janmie Gunawardena

Eventually Truong and her friends organized the Churchill Youth4Tap movement. Their goal was to reduce the amount of bottled water being bought while promoting the use of tap water and refillable bottles.

First, they introduced the initiative by creating a presentation for their principal and their school, later branching out to other schools in the district. Soon, as their initiative started to expand, students from other high schools were interested in collaborating with them.

“[We] were looking for three deliverables: one was educational change, the other one was policy change and the last one was infrastructural change – actually getting water refill stations so that people have alternatives,” says Truong.

Within a year, they were able to fundraise and install four water refill stations at Churchill Secondary.

The Vancouver Youth4Tap initiative was created after many high schools in the district were facing similar problems in their own Youth4Tap clubs. Truong, along with students from all over Vancouver, presented a proposal to the Vancouver School Board which entailed two requests. The first was to phase out the sale of bottled water over the course of five years, and the second was to implement infrastructural support
and funding.

“Sixteen [out] of the eighteen schools have [a water refill station] now,” she says.

Buzzing future plans

Truong is in the midst of building an organization called “CityHive” with long time friend Veronika Bylicki.

She says that targets made by large organizations, like the City of Vancouver’s intention to go 100% green by 2020, are impossible without the help of citizens.

“It’s possible if they have the city on board, if everyone’s committed to it,” she says.

CityHive is working to connect these large organizations with communities and youth that are looking for these types of opportunities and experiences. Truong and Bylicki are hoping to host a focus group to discuss the process of carrying out their plans.

“It takes a village to raise a child. I think that’s truly how I feel about this. It’s not really me, it’s all the people that supported me, like my family and my parents,” says Truong about her nomination.