The first conversation between the Panama Canal and the Youth Network for the Environment and the Canal Watershed, revolved around two crucial issues: water protection and the creation of an environmental culture, all within the framework of International Earth Day (April 22).
At least 120 young people attended via Facebook Live the conversation with Canal Administrator, Ricaurte Vásquez Morales, and the Vice President for Water and Resources Management, Daniel Muschett.
The purpose was to generate a space for dialogue to expose the actions carried out by the Watershed youth for water conservation, share the Canal’s vision for the future, and the challenges of youth to safeguard natural resources.
With the stage set, Humberto Guevara, from the Network of Youth in Consolidation with the Environment of the Chagres-Alhajuela Sub-basin, and Marlenis Hernández, from the Network of Young Environmentalists of Chiri-Trinidad, opened the dialogue.
What is the Young Environmentalists Network?
Marlenis Hernández, Agronomy Engineering student and resident of the Cacao community in the Capira district, explained: “The Youth Network for the Environment and the Canal Watershed is a space for the participation and empowerment of youth for the protection and conservation of water resources in the watershed”.
Among its objectives are to prevent water, soil, and forest pollution in the watershed. The Network had its origins in 2010 when they were part of Guardians of the Watershed, then they became involved in the Advisory Councils, and between 2017 and 2021, they consolidated as a youth network.
Today they already have a five-year plan that reflects their commitment as allies in the environmental conservation in the Watershed, and which includes training for young people and recycling initiatives, among others.
Let’s Talk about Water
Thanks to the platform offered by social networks, this exchange of ideas was made possible.
The conversation was frank and focused on the crucial issues.
“As young people, you make your own this commitment to guarantee this generational shift, which for us is so important, precisely to conserve the natural resources that make it possible for us to have water in sufficient quantity and quality.” Daniel Muschett
On the other hand, the Administrator highlighted the privilege of participating “with young people who have this vision, this tenacity, because in spite of everything that has happened in the pandemic, they have shown that they have the capacity to continue working, especially on an issue that is highly important for this country”.
Getting down to business
The first question of the discussion was from Marlenis Hernández: How can the distribution and commercialization of agricultural production be promoted within an ecotourism plan?
The Canal Administrator responded that the important thing is “to continue with the economic-sustainable development programs in the Watershed, to show the rest of the population that sustainability is possible, and that with this sustainability, we can have economic success and quality of life”.
He emphasized that this is a long-term effort and that to take it “to the next level where there is ecotourism and greater participation, we have to be absolutely aware that as we invite more people to see these sites, we must reinforce the protection of these areas through a lot of discipline”.
From the sub-basin of the Baila Mono, Paja, Cañito and Pescado rivers, Stephanie Gutiérrez asked: “How can we promote projects in the Watershed to enhance the participation of young people in environmental education?
To this, the Administrator indicated that “we have to foster an environmental culture”.
“I believe that education and the development of an environmental culture is the starting point. We must develop this culture to make it our own, to make it part of our nature. This takes a long time and that is why we believe that with young people, we have much more hope.” Dr. Ricaurte Vásquez, Panama Canal Administrator.
Jorge Ballester from the Chagres-Alhajuela region asked: What alternatives can be sought to guarantee access to higher education for young people in the Watershed and reduce the digital gap?
As an example, Ballester proposed taking advantage of existing structures and generating an alliance with universities and authorities to facilitate transportation and access to technology. For the Administrator, this proposal could become an integrated development plan for the region. He added that “we could help at the Panama Canal to develop a plan” and analyze costs to assist young people in making it a reality.
The steps to follow
After an hour of exchange with the young people, we asked Humberto Guevara for his assessment: “I think it fulfilled all our expectations”.
He also indicated that the next step will be to continue his work “now with more strength, knowing that we have the support of the Panama Canal in what the Administrator mentioned about continuing to work together”.
“I am very happy because we were able to achieve this conversation. The answers were quite timely and I think it was very productive. This is a great step forward because with the answers we received, the projects we have proposed within the Watershed will be developed much better”, said Marlenis Hernández.
If anything was clear after the discussion is that young people are the present and, that from the Canal watershed, they are building the foundations for a future with sufficient and quality water for all.