The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step / Elena Nikolovska

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

– Lao Tzu

I know using this quote is such a cliché, but it all started with this very same quote. And this is exactly how I feel right now, like I’ve walked a thousand miles. When I was asked to write an article about my journey to environmental activism, the first thing that came to my mind as I started to unwind everything was “it has been a long a tough road”. But, then just thinking of all the things I’ve learned along the way, the amazing people I’ve met and people I might have influenced- made it all seem so easy. And if I have to do it all over again I definitely would.

It was 2011, I graduated law and I had no idea what to do, the only thing I had was a photo on my wall with human footsteps across a desert and this quote from Lao Tzu written on it. I wrote poetry and short stories, and looking through writing contests one day I stumbled on Think About It International Blogging Competition on Water. Just two months after blogging for the contest I was one of the finalists sent on a reporting trip to Lisbon, Portugal. This trip and the people I met there pushed me to act for what I really care about, gave me the notion that saving nature is not a ridiculous thing to want to do in your life. This girl in particular that I met on the reporting trip to Portugal was younger than me, and had already done so much volunteering for so many different causes. And we both came from small poor countries, so she was my living proof that money is not an obstacle.

Once you meet likeminded people from all over the world and have them in your circle of friends on facebook, email or just follow their blogs, it’s like your eyes are opening to this brave new world of heroes that care. And they constantly share news about fellowships and other opportunities that could just be the chance you’re looking for.

I found out about The Adopt a Negotiator Fellowship opportunity from a facebook friend active in environmental activism. The Adopt a Negotiator Project is selecting hundreds of young people every year and uses webinars and articles to teach them about reporting on climate change issues, then chooses the most successful candidates and sends them to report live from COP. Everyone that applies have to go through three rounds. The first is when your application is accepted, the second is after you finish the first assignment and after two or three assignments they choose a team to report from COP. Pretty amazing! But, when I first applied for the fellowship in 2012, I was missing some real tangible experience in citizen activism. I applied anyways, and wasn’t selected. Now, instead of being disappointed I decided to learn about climate change issues and do some actual citizen activism.

So in 2013, I was working on law amendments for animal welfare in my country and became one of the founders of an environmental protection NGO, and then that summer I became a volunteer for the End Ecocide in Europe initiative. Volunteering for End Ecocide Europe was a big push into environmental issues. Honestly I became depressed after becoming aware of so many environmental disasters in the world, and the people they affected. But, working with so many brave devoted people in the initiative made me think we can do anything. It was through the End Ecocide in Europe CIA that I found out just how big the movement of environmental justice is, and how activists from around the globe can work together to achieve a bigger goal. Who thought a person can learn so much in a year. I practically had a crash course in dealing with international media and communicating with people from all sides of the World. It was very challenging, and I wanted to quit everything so many times, but what we were doing was changing people’s minds and that was reason enough to keep doing everything.

I will say one thing- volunteering is one of the best things a young person can do to gain some very important skills. Except in the end you end up with more than just skills, you get contacts, fresh perspective on things, opportunities you could never find by yourself and get to meet amazing people who make the world a better place every single day.

In the autumn of 2013 The Adopt a Negotiator Project opened the fellowship again, and I applied again, this time I felt more experienced and confident about my application, but deep inside I knew I was still missing some important skills. I wasn’t selected again. So, in 2014 I decided to really get involved in important climate change issues, started following all the live streams from climate negotiations and began a blog about ecological issues to write down my view of things.

Following the live streams takes up a lot of time but it gives you a unique chance to form your own opinion about the issue, instead of reading through someone else’s opinion in popular media. Your opinion could be different- and you could be the one with the right one!

I met a guy this summer at a summer academy that gathered about one hundred environmental activists from all parts of the World. It turned out he was a journalist who writes op-eds for those bigger news media. He said “you gotta have the courage to dig deep and say it all to their faces- no matter who you piss off”. It was the most inspiring sentence someone said to me in awhile, and it was the only thing I needed to become more confident in my actions.

This year The Adopt a Negotiator Fellowship was opened for applications in spring, much earlier than before. I applied, and got really involved in each assignment they gave us. Attended the webinars, and really took their advice. This was incredibly helpful. Then just three weeks before COP20 in Lima, I got an email from the guys at Adopt a Negotiator that even though I was shortlisted I didn’t get the fellowship. The thing is, by now and through all the assignments they gave me, I had learned so much I just wanted to write them a big thank you email. Thank you for pushing my limits, for making me write articles I didn’t know I could write and for forcing me go through the same process 3 years in a row, because in this process I somehow not knowingly- became an environmental activist that deeply cares about what happens to Earth. I will apply again next year, here’s the link to all those amazing webinars I was talking about, and if you want to give it a try just follow the updates on the page for the start of the application process- and give it a try.

What I have to say to all those people who think that learning all those abbreviations, names and roles of key players and watching those painfully long live streams is impossible- it’s really not. You learn those in a month, but that month you will see and hear so many terrible things and so many lives ruined or changed, you just can’t stay silent- and you definitely shouldn’t. We can change so many things, we can end ecocide and have a future with lush green forests and unspoiled nature. All it takes is that first footstep in the sand…

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