This month, OECS YES In Action caught up with Aria Laidlow, a 29 year old Vincentian national tackling the issues of climate change and sustainable development and inspiring youth activism regionally and internationally.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I reside on the largest Grenadine island of Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I am passionate about youth affairs, sustainable development and climate change.
Currently, I serve as one of the Directors of Programme Development for the Commonwealth Youth Council for the Caribbean and the Americas. I am the founder of Youth Opportunities SVG and a recent Sustainability and Climate Change Research Intern with the Met Office UK.
I am a very family-oriented person and love spending my downtime with small groups of friends.
When did you first notice your inclination towards Environmental Sustainability?
I first noticed my inclination towards environmental consciousness when I discovered my love for Geography during my secondary school years at the St Joseph's Convent, Kingstown. The multidisciplinary nature of the subject area was refreshing, and I was able to make connections and draw references from my existing surroundings in relation to the modules.
What were you doing before you began your focus in environmental research?
Before pursuing my journey towards this current field I was a teacher at a local private primary school. The three years I spent teaching were indeed rewarding and fulfilling. It warms my heart today to see the wonderful young men and women who I had the pleasure of teaching. I must add that I too learnt a lot during those years.
What inspired you to start?
The thoughts and questions I had at age 19 triggered my commencement on this particular career and academic path. I would often ponder; how can a small island such as Bequia, which is vulnerable to the effects of climate change but dependent on vulnerable industries such as tourism, achieve true sustainable development.
What obstacles, if any, did you face at the start and how did you overcome them?
Being separated from mainland St. Vincent by nine miles of water meant that opportunities were very limited and difficult to access. My faith in God and staying focused and determined to not let my current circumstances define my future helped me, however. I made up my mind to take the steps necessary, no matter how hard it was or how long it took, to get where I needed to go.
Tell us about the journey from the first spark of interest to your current position today.
My journey indeed was not easy. The highs, lows and in-betweens are all needed, however, to truly mould and solidify one into the person they ought to be.
After my initial spark of interest, and teaching for three years, I decided to pursue my undergraduate degree at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago, where I obtained a Bachelors of Science with majors in Geography and Environmental Natural Resource Management (with first class honours.) I also graduated as top performer for both majors.
After graduating, I worked in various sectors before pursuing my Masters. In 2017 I obtained an ID-Travel Bonham-Carter Oxford Graduate Scholarship, which provided a fully-funded opportunity for me to obtain my Masters of Science in Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford.
During my time there I participated in a number of amazing initiatives, including being selected by the School of Geography and Environment to attend the UNLEASH Innovation Lab 2018 in Singapore. I was chosen as one of 1000 global talents to develop innovative solutions to solve pressing problems towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Upon graduating in 2018, I was appointed as one of the Directors of Programme Development for the Commonwealth Youth Council for the Caribbean and the Americas. In this capacity, I have been given the task of developing a Climate Change Youth Advocacy Workshop, which begins in Saint Lucia this year.
In addition to devising mechanisms for developing and strengthening National Youth Councils across the Commonwealth Caribbean, in the later part of last year, I also founded Youth Opportunities SVG. This is a discovery platform for local, regional and international opportunities for young Vincentians. The long-term goal is to provide specific opportunities that would lead to the development of skills which can then be used in projects that would help to alleviate our socio-economic and environmental problems.
In January of this year I began an internship with the UK Met Office. Within my capacity, I was given the responsibility of reviewing and analysing climate information services provided by the Met Office in international development projects. After analysis, I developed 10 mechanisms by which climate information services may be more sustainable. The experience has indeed been amazing, and I do hope that climate information services can become more accessible within the OECS to better inform the decision making processes for public, private and civil organisations in order to mitigate and adapt to predicted threats of climate change.
What would you consider to be your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge along the way was having a positive mindset, even when things seemed hopeless. Also, there were moments where I was unable to see beyond the obstacles and lows. This was indeed a great challenge as being in a place where you feel stuck, or where your boundaries are limited, is a place where dreams and passion will die.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
I do believe my proudest moment thus far has been hearing my name, Aria Laidlow, a simple island girl with a dream, being echoed in the Halls of the Sheldonian within a string of Latin, on Saturday 3rd November 2018, where I was pronounced as a proud alumna of the University of Oxford.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
I am motivated by the possibility of being a part of meaningful research and practice, which has the ability to positively change the lives of many.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in the future?
Evolving as a social entrepreneur, through the work of Youth Opportunities SVG, by providing young Vincentians with specific skills, opportunities and experiences that can in turn help to strengthen the blue and green economy and thus achieve sustainability. Secondly, having my research, which I have already started, contribute in a meaningful way by identifying sustainable pathways for tourism in small islands. Last but not least, being the founder of my very own consultancy firm, tackling issues of climate change and sustainable development within small island developing states.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced your journey?
There are so many people who have been a part of my journey and continue to be. My parents first of all for their sacrifices, trust and giving me that space to be my true self. However, I would particularly like to mention Dr. Jennifer Collymore, a past lecturer at the Department of Geography at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. 'Jennifer' as she asked us to refer to her, exuded a level of care and nurturing, strength, confidence and wisdom. She always had the right words to say and her presence, effervescence and down to earth nature made her special to all she met. We still continue our friendship to this day.
What advice do you have for other Caribbean youth aspiring to get involved whether in sports/journalism or other areas?
"Defy the odds and boundaries by a continued pursuit to be the best version of yourself. Do this knowing that life is not a destination" -- Aria Laidlow
I answered a question earlier about my journey, and I often think that young people view life as a linear progression, this couldn't be further from the truth. My advice is to stay focused, determined, humble, and to embrace the small wins just as much as the big ones. Network and get to know people within the field you are interested in and ask questions.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
I am definitely looking forward to continuing my work with the CYC, especially our workshop on youth climate change activism; Youth Opportunities SVG and other local initiatives. Next for me is finding an opportunity where I can share my talents and expertise regionally or internationally.
OECS YES In Action seeks to recognise inspirational young persons on the path to great achievements and serves as a complement to the OECS Feature Series, which highlights the accomplishments of consummate professionals from the OECS Member States within the region and in the Diaspora.