Abhayjeet Singh Sachal (Abhay), a Grade 10 student at Seaquam Secondary School in Delta, was the keynote speaker at this year's REaDY Summit. Minutes in, it was clear there's something amazing about Abhay.
He shared stories from a recent, life-changing experience: joining 120 students and 80 educators from Students on Ice (a scholarship-granting non-profit organization), to witness climate change in real time.
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During the Arctic voyage last year, Abhay saw polar bears sitting on shrinking icebergs and ice fjords, which he described as "bone-chilling and eye-opening."
Most importantly, he made new friends — Inuit students who showed him how climate change has affected their lives.
"Melting ice has harmed their traditional way of hunting," Abhay told the REaDY Summit audience of 250. "Studies from Inuvik showed that the temperature in the tundra has doubled and that the snow melts months earlier than it used to. This is extremely detrimental to the Inuit way of life."
According to Abhay, melting glaciers are also harming the Yukon, where the Slims River disappeared in four days in 2016.
Abhay expressed frustration that his Inuit friends worry about a plethora of health issues that don't occur to most people in Canada, such as food and water insecurity.
"We think of Canada as a leader, but clearly these communities are suffering and no one knows about it or wants to do anything about it," Abhay said.
Abhay is not content to leave things the way they are.
After he returned from his Arctic excursion, he created Break the Divide, a youth group that aims to break societal divisions around the world. He hopes sharing his experience is one way to make Canada's next 150 years better and stronger than the last 150.
Judging by the response of his peers, Abhay and his movement are clearly onto something.
This is the sixth year the David Suzuki Foundation has partnered with the City of Richmond and the Richmond School District to co-host the Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit. Last year, the youth-led environmental conference won the Our Canada Project Award, for its Learning for a Sustainable Future partnership with RBC.