Two Young Caribbean Environmental Activists Win Regional Award

I seem to be regularly “bigging up” the region’s young environmental activists these days, and with good reason. Dozens of young Ambassadors were busy planting trees (many of them in “real time”) at the launch of the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance’s Caribbean Tree Planting Project youth arm on Sunday. More to follow on this! I also am in awe of the “Youth for Puerto Bueno” group – Jamaican graduate students, who despite their busy study timetables have been keeping the focus on the concerns over a limestone quarry license in this very special area, via social media. I encourage them to continue honing their advocacy skills.

And there are many other young people out there, doing great work for our environment. Adrian Watson, who was recently among those selected as a Young Leader of the Americas Fellow, has developed a social enterprise keeping bees and is a former head of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network‘s Jamaica chapter. Tamara Nicholson at the Forestry Department is working quietly with rural communities on alternative livelihood projects. And I could go on.

Isabel Vique and Shanna Challenger with one of the new trees in March 2018, 6 months after invasive species were removed from the uninhabited island of Redonda off Antigua. (Jenny Daltry/ Fauna and Flora International)

Now, a young woman from Antigua, whom I have got to know (virtually) quite recently, through BirdsCaribbean, has won a regional award for her great work on invasive species, along with a young Puerto Rican activist, Amira Odeh, from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands based in St. Thomas.

Many congratulations to Shanna and Amira!

U.S. Virgin Islands, January 12, 2021—The Advisory Committee of the Euan P. McFarlane Environmental Leadership Award of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) is pleased to announce the selection of Shanna Challenger of St. John’s, Antigua and Amira Odeh of Bayamón, Puerto Rico for receipt of the 2020 McFarlane Award, in recognition of their important work as dedicated and passionate environmentalists. The two were selected from a field of seven nominations that also included individuals from St. Lucia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The nominations this year collectively represented an exceptional pool of talent and accomplishments, particularly noteworthy this year as we changed the age requirements with an emphasis on younger leaders,” said review committee member Judith Towle. “Interestingly, all nominees save one were women, pointing, we believe, to a reality increasingly evident in the region that intelligent, educated, and committed young women are assuming a more resilient leadership role in the environmental field,” she said.

Recipients of the McFarlane Award are recognized as individuals who have applied themselves to the preservation of the natural or built environment in the insular Caribbean and whose career or avocation demonstrates an appreciation of and support for the advancement of environmental stewardship and balanced development in the Caribbean.

Shanna Challenger has just seen a fabulous Antiguan bird – I know it! (Photo: Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands)

Ms. Challenger currently serves as Coordinator of the Offshore Islands Conservation Programme for Antigua’s largest environmental NGO, the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG). Her work there has focused on invasive species removal and endangered species population recovery on Antigua’s offshore islands, along with the restoration of Redonda Island and transforming it into a protected area. Much of her passion and commitment is focused on increasing environmental awareness and popularizing environmental protection initiatives. Ms. Challenger holds a Master of Science degree in conservation biology and is the recipient of the prestigious Chevening Scholarship by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Amira Odeh is a geographer and water resource specialist in Puerto Rico and is currently focused on reforestation on the island after the 2017 hurricanes. (Photo: Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands)

Ms. Odeh is a geographer and water resource specialist by training. Her leadership in the field has focused on community development, environmental outreach, and mobilization of youth on behalf of the environment. While at the University of Puerto Rico, Ms. Odeh organized a successful campaign to eliminate single-use plastic bottled water on the campus and created a more accessible source of free and clean drinking water. She is currently leading the Caribbean Youth Environment Network chapter in Puerto Rico, which has concentrated on reforestation since the 2017 hurricanes. The project includes the building of fruit tree parks across the island, an initiative that also addresses the issue of food security. 

The Euan P. McFarlane Award was established in 1987 to recognize individuals demonstrating initiative, resourcefulness and leadership in promoting conservation and enhancement of the environment in the insular Caribbean. Endowment funding for the award was provided by the late businessman and conservationist Laurance S. Rockefeller, and the program was initially administered by Island Resources Foundation from 1987-2014. The McFarlane Leadership Award is now managed by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands as part of its program of support to youth, learning, family support and the environment.

Amira Odeh started a scheme to eliminate plastic water bottles and provide free, safe drinking water on campus, as a student at the University of Puerto Rico.

About the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands: Since 1990, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has been a catalyst for positive change in the Territory through initiatives committed to youth, learning, family support and the environment. With a professional staff and a volunteer Board of Directors composed of community leaders, CFVI is a trusted advocate and supporter of programs that ensure opportunity and sustainability for current and future generations. CFVI is a registered non-profit organization entirely supported by individual donors, grants, trusts, corporate donations and estate planning. For more information, visit cfvi.net.

The survival of Masked Booby chicks on Redonda Island (part of Antigua and Barbuda) will no longer by threatened by rats and feral goats. Following their removal, the island’s vegetation quick rebounded and breeding seabird populations increased. Redonda has regionally and globally significant colonies of seabirds, including Brown Boobies, Masked Boobies, Red‐footed Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Red-billed Tropicbirds. (photo by Salina Janzan/ Fauna and Flora International).

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