“Working with Young People Means Investing in the Present”

Joyce Najm Mendez describes herself as a technoxamanist, TEDx lecturer, STEM advocate and social entrepreneur working on the water-energy-food nexus and transboundary cooperation. She is a MSc candidate in Sustainability and Adaptation Planning at the Centre of Alternative Technology, UK, and she has co-founded several organisations in Latin America, tackling mainly sustainability and adaptation-mitigation of climate change. In this article, she shares some of her experiences. She says that “working with young people means investing in the present, and the opportunity for real change in the civilisation paradigm.”

Joyce grew up on the triple border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, where two rivers meet, the Parana River (the largest river in South America) and the Iguazu River. It is home of the Atlantic Forest, a transboundary natural reserve housing fundamental fauna and flora of the region. Under its soil lies one of the biggest reservoirs of fresh potable waters in the world: the Guarani Aquifer. However, Joyce’s journey in sustainability did not start underground, but rather far above it – as an amateur astronomer. 

“In high school and the first years of university I researched exoplanet habitability, in order to analyze what makes a planet or an exoplanet (planets outside the solar system) habitable. I gradually realised the uniqueness of our planet, with a dynamic stable system and its boundaries threatened by the current anthropocentric paradigm. I understood where I was and how I could act as a catalyst for transformation." 

Joyce is particularly passionate about cross-border cooperation through the water-energy-food nexus: “I want to strengthen intergenerational dialogue in the water sector, to promote youth participation as the key to a dynamic transition and continue to sustainable development, in order to involve different sectors of society in real actions for the Global Agenda 2030.” 

Active and wide engagement

And over the past few years, Joyce has worked actively to achieve her goals, by co-founding several organisations and being engaged in local and regional grassroot movements across Latin America. 

“Back in 2015, working jointly with professors and other students, I cofounded the Foz do Iguaçu – Iguaçu – Moema Viezzer Environmental - Educative Observatory. We worked with practical and theoretical activities to engage the community to develop environmental public policies towards research, education in conservation, and climate action. One of our biggest achievements was to develop the Foz do Iguaçu Municipal Plan for the Atlantic Forest, guaranteeing progress for the recovery and preservation of biodiversity. The work is still ongoing, with several volunteers in around 10 different Latin American countries.” 

In 2016 Joyce co-founded the Youth Collective of the Parana 3 Basin, a group part of the Cultivating Good Water Initiative, which offers education and capacity-building to youth leaders from 25 cities of the Paraná State in Brazil. In 2017 she co-founded The Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics of Energy (OELA), which is part of the Nucleus for Strategic Studies, Geopolitics and Regional Integration of the Federal University for Latin-American Integration (UNILA). The initiative democratizes access to qualified information and research, with an emphasis on Mercosur and South America, while fostering capacity building through continuous outreach activities. 

“In 2018 I co-founded the Paraguayan Youth for Water Network, empowering young water-related professionals across the country, through capacity building activities to develop cooperation projects to foster the development of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) and SDG14. Nationally, over the last 3 years we have organised the national youth for water forum, mobilising youth across the country to take action in water security. And the same year, I started to represent the World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW), as well as global initiatives for the promotion of water security at transboundary level, like Blue Peace.” 

Joyce is also a Board Member of the Center for a United Nations Constitutional Research (CUNCR), supporting the Youth Climate Ambassadors Initiative, and developing partnerships and projects on climate governance. “We created the ‘Epirus Declaration’, envisioning a world of effective global governance whileliving sustainably on our planet. It should be a human right to enjoy a healthy environment, ensure justice, the creation of an International Environmental Court with the competency to prosecute environmental crimes, holding states, corporations, other non-state actors and individuals accountable with universal jurisdiction.” 

This story is part of a collaboration between WYPW and GWP to make sure the voices of youth are heard. Do you have a good youth water story to share? Please get in touch with us on gwp@gwp.org.

The top photo is a still picture from Joyce's TED Talk in 2019.