Solutions in Sight:
(Youth for Environmental
A Conversation with
YES! is an international,
non-profit youth environmental group that works to educate,
inspires, and empower young people to take positive action
for the future of life on Earth. YES! leads week-long summer
youth leadership events and is also an amazing road show
that combines music and drama to show young people that the
choices they make affect the way the world is, today and in
The InSite: Who's idea was this?
Tad: In 1989 John
Robbins wrote the book, Diet for a New America (which was
nominated for a Pulitzer Prize). He was flooded with
responses for the book which showed people the impact of
their food choices not just on their own health and how
animals are treated, but also on the environment. This was a
connection a lot of people hadn't made before. John's son,
Ocean, was brought up by his parents in the wilderness in
Canada B.C. [British Columbia]. When he was still very
young, Ocean decided that he wanted to make a difference for
the environment. So at the age of 14 he traveled to Russia.
He met with Mrs. Gorbachev and gave her a copy of the book.
He was a really amazing young man! In 1990, when he was 15,
Ocean and his friend, Ryan Eliason, decided they wanted to
make a difference in the world. So they created this tour
called "Creating our Future" tour. It was just the two of
them and they went to schools. They did a lot of skits and a
lot of drama and a lot of public speaking. They didn't have
any music then at all. In their first presentation a band
was playing next door, much louder than they were and they
had to use a megaphone instead of a microphone to speak!
They only had one megaphone so they had to pass it back and
forth between them.
They got such a great response from the tour, they
received all sorts of national media attention. They got a
lot of celebrity support. They kept going and they started
holding summer camps too. They used the summer camps to find
new people who might want to go on the tour. And it was a
rotating thing - every year they'd get new office staff in,
they'd get new tour members.
TI: Who was funding all of this?
Tad: A lot of foundations were really excited
about it because it was a completely youth run project that
was having such an impact. So there was a lot of funding
especially back then, because it was exciting.
TI: What was happening to the young people who were
seeing this presentation?
Tad: For schools that already had environmental
groups, invariably their memberships would increase. And
schools that didn't already have environmental groups
started them. The biggest message was about making conscious
"Oh my gosh! I've just been advertised
TI: What do you mean by "conscious choices"?
Tad: I mean that you
have the power to create the future the way you want to. The
tour was called "Creating our Future." A lot of times within
our society with advertising and a lot of false information
people aren't making the decisions consciously. They think
they are. They say, "I'm going to go buy this burger." But
they don't understand the impact that it's having. And they
don't really understand maybe why they are eating that
burger or why they are buying those clothes. Sometimes
people don't realize that, and as soon as they do they go,
"Oh my gosh! I've just been advertised to!" Most of us don't
understand the connections between where we spend our money
and the way the world comes out. When people start making
conscious choices it's a lot easier to create the future the
way we want to.
TI: So the tour is getting this amazing response, and
young people who weren't doing anything in the way of
environmental activism all of a sudden were saying "Yeah! I
can make a difference!"
Tad: Right! The most exciting things that we tell
people about the camps is "Guess what? You've come to an
environmental camp." And they'll say "Thank you. That was in
the brochure." But let's define "environment" before we
start. Because a lot of them, especially in the beginning,
came thinking that maybe it was going to be like, canoeing
and singing Kum Bay Yah and lanyard making.
TI: What was it really?
Tad: The biggest thing the camps are is an
opportunity for the youth to remember who they really are.
And we tell them the environment isn't just the trees and
the grass and the water. The environment is everything that
surrounds and affects us. And it's also what's within us.
There's problems with the environment out there because it's
a world not at peace with itself. Because we're not at peace
with ourselves. And if we can really address the root of the
problem, which is the individual, then we can make a bigger
TI: What kind of specific things went on in the
Tad: We dealt with a lot of things, like
gender issues. That has such a
powerful, profound impact in so many countries. We don't
count a woman's worth as economically valuable as a man's.
It doesn't contribute to the figures of how much money is
earned. It doesn't show up even though they are raising the
children in so many cases. Or like
racism issues and how that effects
things. Beyond the
self-esteem and really taking a look at
exploring what's your heart's purpose? What do you really
want to do with your life?
TI: How did you personally get involved with YES!?
Tad: When I was in high school I
was pretty active in leadership activities in Alberta
[Canada]. I became president of my student council. I heard
about YES! and I thought "This sounds like such an amazing
group." I wanted to make a difference in the environment but
I hadn't figured out how. I've seen too many people who have
gone into schools and preached. And it was hellfire and
brimstone, man! I mean people signed the petitions at the
end and they wrote letters because they thought they would
burn in hell if they didn't! And I thought, "That's not the
way." I saw students leaving more depressed than when they
walked in. They were thinking, "Wow! There's no hope." So I
ended up going down to this camp.
TI: And what was that like for you?
Tad: It was the most amazing experience! The camp
was in Klamath Falls, Oregon. One of the greatest things
about the YES! camps is that they are held in the most
beautiful environments. You can hold a camp in the middle of
a city, but you're connecting with concrete. One of the
biggest outcomes is that people actually get out into
nature. In so many cases, youth haven't had that opportunity
to connect. So I was in love with the place as soon as I
arrived. The thing that touched me so much about the camps
was that they were so safe. People really listened to each
other! And a sense of genuine care came through. There's a
real power in being active and being focused. But there's
also a lot of power in just being open and letting things
happen. So often we try to make things happen.
"They look so happy and they don't seem to
be on drugs."
TI: Or we try to resist things happening.
Tad: This is so true! We try to resist and not
accept the way things are. We're really creating a space
which is a whole new way for some people. One of the years
we had a youth come who's name was Robby Choudhry. He came
from outside Phoenix, Arizona. At the age of 12 he was in
his first gang. At age 14 he was selling drugs to make
money. He had his pants on backwards, his hat on
backwards... rebelling against everything! The gun in one
pocket. The beeper. The gold chain. Then one day the YES!
tour came to his school. He saw the presentation and
thought, "They look so happy and they don't seem to be on
drugs." And a little spark got ignited. And he thought about
it and thought about it and he decided that he wanted to
come to camp. I think it was because he was so sick of the
city. He did value himself enough to take care of himself a
little bit. He couldn't afford it but we were able to give
him a scholarship.
TI: What was it like for Robby at camp?
Tad: There were a lot of people there who were
already sort of into the environment. They were leaders in
their community. And there all happy to be there, playing,
and he's sitting there going, "Oh man! A bunch of happy
white people!" He really wasn't into it. He had been taught
his whole life that if people are really nice to you then
they want something from you. It's not just that he wanted
to believe that, but his whole life taught him that... if
you reach out to someone. They may look great, but then
they'll burn you or stab you in the back.
TI: It must have be tough for people like Robby to
Tad: It is! Especially
when everything you do [to be nice] they resist it. The
beautiful thing about the YES! camp is that it's not about
pushing anything. It's not about preaching. It was just
about finding the safe space for him to open up at his own
pace. And he did! Because he got it! "Like wow! It's been
three days and no one wants anything from me." The food is
amazing because they get pure vegetarian food. It's so good
the way they prepare it. So he was eating this great food in
this great environment. I don't think he had eaten healthy
food in a long time. And just the support he had. And he
started to open up more and more. And you could just see
this little crack that got created in the armor. Day by day
it got opened a little more, and one day it just finally,
completely fell apart and there he was.
TI: So what happens to this vulnerable heart that's
out there for the first time when he goes back home?
challenge in the inner cities is not the violence, the
drugs, the abuse, the poverty, it's that people lose their
Tad: He was changed. He was speaking so powerfully
about the pain he'd been through, and then he had to go back
home, and he had to go to jail for the stuff he had done
before, and he was tried as an adult for his past record.
And he was put in a shock incarceration unit. It's a boot
camp, essentially. They are designed to break you down and
build you back up. Which is ironic because it just becomes a
training ground for incredible criminals! He wrote us a
bunch of letters from inside the jail. His mom was so
concerned. She didn't know if he was going to make it in
there. He was the youngest person in there. But Robby said,
"I swear. If it weren't for YES! camp, I wouldn't have made
it." What he got, and what a lot of people get at YES! camp,
is a vision for the future. This hope. The biggest challenge
in the inner cities is not the violence, the drugs, the
abuse, the poverty, it's that people lose their dreams.
TI: What happened to Robby?
Tad: He is actually an amazing guy! His parole is
recently ending. He may be coming back to camp. But even in
jail he was so inspiring. He'd walk by in the dining room
and people would be eating steak and he'd be like, "Why are
you eating that? Do you know what it's doing to do to your
heart? Do you know how many square feet of rain forest are
cut down for that?" He got people recycling! And pretty soon
people couldn't wait for him to open his mouth and talk. I
mean, he was the most positive thing in there! He's getting
involved in his community. He's making a difference and he
keeps writing that he wants to join the YES! tour. It's been
so inspiring, because it's not just about one person. It's
that amazing ripple effect.
One of the most exciting things that YES! has
accomplished in the last year was our World Youth Leadership
Camp. We invited an intimate group of only 40 leading young
activists from around the world to come together in
California for a week. I was selected to go from Canada, and
it was one of the richest, most beautiful, and amazing
experiences of my life! Each youth there could have been the
keynote speaker at a major international conference. We
shared ideas, strategies, and tools, but more importantly,
we created friendships without borders. It was a huge
leap in my feeling of connection to the world as a whole.
The camp was covered by ABC, CBS, NBC, and even PBS! We
also filmed it ourselves and that footage, plus stock
footage from around the world was put together into a 23
minute video called "Connect" which was beamed,
internationally, into over 300 million homes on prime time
MTV on Earth Day. We are reaching the world!
We are reaching the world!
Want to find out more about
Check out their web site at www.yesworld.org
or email Tad at [email protected]
YES! Action Camps
420 Bronco Rd.
Soquel, CA 95073
Toll free: (877) 293-7226
Fax: (831) 462-6970
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