Volunteers United for Fruitful Exchanges on Environmental Issues

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 During their first 2022 meeting, which focused on environmental issues, the volunteers (coopérantes) explored the theme from several angles. On the first day of their meetings, inspired by the interviews conducted, in the previous months, with young people under 30 years of age, the eight members present shared the comments collected during the interviews. The agenda included several times of prayer and ritual, as well as a festive meal at the end of the first day of the reunion.

Annie Lafontaine brought a centerpiece used throughout the meeting. It is the fruit of a work by young people from Académie les Estacades using various techniques, under the supervision of their teacher Roch Bertrand. The work aims at raising awareness of the negative impact of plastic pollution on oceans and on animals, including turtles, bears and birds.

The following day, as they compiled the comments, the volunteers reported some critical findings. The lack of hope among young people was one such finding, as was their perception of the scope of individual ecological actions in solving the crisis. There was consensus from the outset.

A collective awareness is needed: governments and companies must support individual efforts with concrete and immediate actions. Conscious that the pandemic has resulted in the loss of some individual ecological habits, in addition to increasing the use of disposable products, it was noted that awareness is even more necessary today. The same is true for collective demands on authorities.

Several positive elements emerged from this compilation of interview responses, including the influence of parents. The young people interviewed already demonstrated a high level of ecological awareness. Despite everything, they all admitted that no one is at the same place of ecological sensitivity. A lot depends on where you live and where your environmental reflection has led you. “Not everyone is ready to accept personal restrictions,” one respondant said.

Lise Gagnon, who was co-animator of the meeting with Julie Tétreault and Annie Lafontaine, distributed a card to each participant with the invitation to write out her commitment as a future reminder.


Hope. . .

As they shared their reflections aloud, some mentioned the difficulty many people have in comprehending the real danger of the environmental crisis and the need to act now. Another remarked that human beings often tend to wait until the last minute to act. At the same time, the global pandemic has also demonstrated the ability of human beings to work together to find solutions, as evidences by the creation of several vaccines.

Also noted was the difficulty in being consistent with one’s values when it comes to one’s comfort, pleasure, and desires. Going against the present current of “me, myself, and I” and its imposition of over consumption implies being master of one’s lifestyle and being open to transformation without feeling restricted. “Respecting environmental principles should not be seen as a deprivation of all pleasures.” There are ways of remaining true to your values and still making that choice visibly attractive in your community.

Chantal Therrien, who is very involved in her milieu, fashioned a collage of various achievements aimed at environmental health. Her clear identifications of the actions taken demonstrated the progress made and had an encouraging effect.

If some statistics are scary, others can give hope. For example, if we could guarantee that 30% of the world’s land be protected space, we could already ensure biodiversity. Struggles to protect peatlands, forests, and wetlands are therefore very relevant.

Actions within everyone’s reach

The meeting ended with a call for commitment. Each participant expressed her wishes and wrote them down as a reminder:

  • Pay attention to youth battling eco-anxiety
  • Continue to keep my eyes and mind open and continue to recycle masks and plastic waste in my neighbourhood
  • Educate children and adults with a positive approach to the environment while continuing to educate myself on the subject
  • Walk to work at least twice a week
  • Adopt lifestyle habits consistent with my values without feeling guilty or without feeling I am being deprived of something
  • Encourage my children and grandchildren to take on environmental actions
  • Become more aware of ecological actions taken by making a list as an encouragement
  • Encourage those around me and in my environment to re-adopt the ecological habits already in place before the arrival of the pandemic.

At the end of the meeting, participants identified the subject of their next meeting, in the fall: the spirituality of environmental justice.

Friendly and energizing meetings

It is worth recalling that the group’s ten or so volunteers meet twice a year for a weekend. This is the format they have chosen since members live in regions far away from each other.

The group was formed in 2006 at the suggestion of Sr. Hélène Harvey, following her volunteer work in Haiti. It is now composed of two other SNJM Sisters and of lay women who have lived experiences of cooperation in several countries, mainly in Latin America and Africa.

This approach responds to their desire to get together, to give themselves an opportunity to share their experiences, to support each other, and to nourish their interest in topics related to their values. The group is a source of mutual enrichment. It represents another form of relationship with the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM).

Seated: Hélène Harvey, Julie Tétreault Standing: Lise Gagnon, Chantal Thérien, Josée Desrosiers, Isabelle Ouimet, Élisabeth Giroux, Annie Lafontaine. The group also includes Annie Bergeron and Micheline Jobin who were unable to be present for this meeting.