THE EARTH TIMES
May 5, 1993
Strengthening self-esteem of youths
By Ashali Varma
Nathan Gray, founder and main force behind the Earth Train project, spoke with The Earth Times, Excerpts:
How did the Earth Train project get started and what motivated you to undertake this unique venture?
The origin of the Earth Train campaign says a lot about why it needed to happen. About three years ago, I was invited by a larger group of teenagers to participate in a retreat in Northern California. The focus of this meeting was firstly, how can, we the youth be recognized as leaders and not just followers and secondly, how can we reach out to our peers and make an effective call for action for the environment. These young people were more than qualified to ask these questions as they had been involved in various projects, including Earth Day and concerts for the environment. When I began to answer their questions, it was very frustrating because every idea I came up with they had already thought of and rejected.
Finally, I said, “Let’s take a train across the world on a 10-year campaign that reaches out to youth all over the globe and achieves your objectives. “There was dead silence, and suddenly a skinny kid got up and said, “Let’s do it.” At that point I realized my career in international development had just been hijacked by a hundred teenagers.
At that point what did you hope to achieve?
Well, my background has been focused on Third World development and what motivated me was a profound commitment to see responsible people in their teens being given a chance to work on world problems. We started training programs in various cities where young people taught teenagers leadership and organizing skills for environmental action and to work on communities. By the fall of 1992 we had already conducted over 400 training programs in the US and in Moscow for Russian and Ukrainian Youth. The skills they were taught came under the rubric of leadership.
Which organizations are helping the Earth Train?
A number of organizations are actively involved in this endeavor: United Earth led by Claes Nobel, Citykids Foundation. The California Association of Student Councils, and Peace Child International.
What were some of the most moving and memorable moments for you in this mission?
I think the experience we had over a thousand young people in for introductory training led by teenagers from all over the world. You had kids from Los Angeles only months after the horrendous riots of 1992 learning how they can be rehabilitated and responding to kids from the war-torn countries of Yugoslavia. Youth leaders like Daniela Zunec from Croatia could understand and empathize with problems of racial discrimination as she herself had lived through similar problems.
What is the Earth Train’s master plan?
It’s a big one. The master goal of the Earth Train is to transform the archetype of youth from that of the dependent and the unseen to that of a respected keeper of the future.
When young people are perceived with respect, they perceive themselves as responsible keepers of the future. This represents a shift in self-esteem and is a big step towards acquiring leadership qualities. That is our agenda.