On Sunday, June 12, 2022, I joined the Voices of Future Generations Children’s Initiative to host a virtual storytime as part of the Festival of Nature.
The Festival of Nature is the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world. (We) Children from around the globe took the audience on a magical journey by sharing our stories, hopes, dreams and vision for a sustainable world.
I was the speaker who opened up the event for the VoFG CI delegation, then Child Authors followed.
If you missed it or want to watch it again here is the video:
Magical music comes to the aid of a young blind immigrant struggling to wake her adopted city, in order to secure a spark of real recovery and build back better lives in the aftermath of a global pandemic.
Song Spark Recovery Magic By Nico Roman Cordonier Gehring (12)
“Something important is missing…” mused Song, as she helped her mother carry their battered chairs and worn rugs up the cold concrete stairwells to their council flat. Since they first saw the grim, looming halls of the housing estate, she had felt an icy absence – like a gap opening in her shattered world. It was a whispered warning, spoken over and over in the background, too soft for conscious grasp, but ominous in its subliminal impact. The omission haunted her: their new building had no song!
Where they had lived in the West, before a terrible global coronavirus pandemic had ripped her grandmother away from her tiny family, also taking her mother’s low-paying janitorial job, life had been different.
Although she had learned not to mention it to strangers, to Song each building hummed with its community’s unique spirit, celebrating their shared ideas, dreams and lives. Each edifice, each neighbourhood sang its own special tune, woven from the shared history and harmony of its people and place. Sightless since birth, Song relied on textures, tastes, scents and especially sound – music – to make sense of her world. Her service dog, Mozart, a small husky granted to her family by a local charity, helped her to navigate when her mother was away. But she used to revel in the quiet music, entering a home for a morning playdate, or tiptoeing past and listening, on a peaceful evening, could learn the purpose of an office-building or the courageous mission of a hospital. Here in the East, even as vaccines slowly reached each generation and the pandemic slowly wound down, things were strange. Her new building sounded heavy, chill and empty, the long hallways echoing with dust and neglect, the inhabitants disconnected and alien. Not even the sad, tattered sparrows on the grimy windowsills were singing.
Song could not see the towering, imposing glass structures far above her, nor the flashing neon lights that attracted others to the city, even in days devastated by the disease, with its millions of losses, the fear, distrust and economic collapse. She only felt the disconnect, and suffered.
Song tried to settle into their flat. Her mother had to leave very early each morning to labour in the chemical sewers of a factory that had re-opened, making personal protective equipment for hospitals, and Song was left alone with Mozart. The winter was oppressive. Song sensed deeply the hopelessness and grief of the grim city, polluted and silent. The scents of iridescent diesel oil spills wafted from the puddles on the roads and discarded rubbish rotting uncollected on the curbs. Slimy discarded masks, gloves and other plastics clogged the drains, making Song and Mozart slip if they went out. Already, the constant horns of traffic again blared and roared along the highways beside their grimy flat, melding with the constant background wail of ambulances.
Song sat on the faded linoleum next to the open window in their tiny kitchen, taking tiny shallow breaths of the cold, polluted city air. She was sad and angry. She wondered how her world, so full of joyful tunes, had somehow –in the midst of the global pandemic and the disastrous move– turned so silent. She wanted to change things, but she couldn’t imagine how.
Her one cheerful thought, which she held close to warm her like a glowing golden ember, was her special flute. Once her grandfather could visit, bringing the ancient instrument that he had reserved just for her, Song hoped the crystal notes would form and dance around her as they always did when she played in his tiny cabin along the white cliffs and turquoise heather moors of the West.
Finally, after nearly two weeks of painful pause, the day arrived! Masked and cautious, Song and her mother travelled through the cluttered, noisy but somehow dead streets of their pandemic-struck city to the train station. When Song’s grandfather stepped smiling from the carriage, his wrinkled arms outstretched, Sybil barely needed the pressure of her mother’s light hand on her back to fly towards him. His answering laughter, and the pure notes of greeting that she heard from the precious instrument he carried carefully, made all the waiting worthwhile. On a bark of welcome from Mozart, as he too heard the notes leaking from the battered but beloved black case, a bit of her former confidence returned.
With her flute, Song’s grim life in the dead, silent, cluttered city of the East improved. Cold, lonely halls and silent sadness still formed a cage around her tiny soul, but her music surrounded her, clear and pure, the notes cascading through her days. Unfortunately, the only teacher available in the city was much more expensive. As she set out with Mozart for her first lesson, she had a spark. Rather than burden her tiny family, she could contribute to the cost herself, by playing her flute!
Song’s first clandestine concert took place in the centre of her new city, at the intersection two major alleyways, next to an abandoned street market. Her trusted Mozart guided her through the crowds. Secretly she hoped that they all had been vaccinated because she felt people gathering, and some seemed rather close.
Song unpacked her instrument and started to play. The indigo notes of the ancient, slender silver instrument flowed like a crystal river through the grey, silent city streets, touching the lives of each person, and planting seeds of hope in the crushed hearts of the homes, buildings and neighbourhoods themselves. As Song shared her very soul, the city around her slowly stopped. Pedestrians, cars, buses froze to hear the lovely music. The notes formed a warm waterfall of beauty and light. And as the people of the soundless, soulless, songless city learned to listen, many for the first time in their lives, they became inspired to build back better.
In the crowd, a boy on a skateboard with gleaming raven-wing hair and purple high-tops stopped, astonished, and then quickly pulled out his mobile. His light fingers sped across the keys, and an app glowed with indigo energy as Song’s music engraved electronically. After the performance, Song crumpled in exhaustion on the stone stairs beneath the arches of a stone doorway. Then Mozart barked in greeting. The boy approached, with awed eyes, and asked her permission to post her performance online. Scarcely recognising herself, Song agreed.
The music went viral, travelling everywhere through the city, and transformation travelled with it. A sad, pointless prison for the poor broke the chains of solitude and started rapping its rhythm out from the ground. A polluted petrol station and a greedy fast-food restaurant realised their destiny, and lifted an upbeat, jazzy saxophone duet number. A rubbish tip heard her music, waking from its methane-laden haze and throbbing with deep, happy, decomposing bass notes. The cut-rate pawnshop awakened from its uncaring mist of mangled memories, to pluck a guitar string. With Song’s music came a spark, and with the spark, recovery.
Millions of views and new listeners later, the entire city began to slowly awaken, as if from hibernation. Song and her new friend, Raven, composed new melodies directly online, activating his music apps and her flute talent, and more and more people tuned in to listen, and to transform themselves.
A visiting playwright teaching a story to a group of children in a sad, underfunded schoolroom with a special indigo ink pen paused to listen, as Song’s notes played through the public address speakers, and smiled softly to himself, as the building began to hum the notes back, and recovered into a handsome library brimming with books. A travelling street artist spray-painting an endangered orca and her calves onto a tall shipping company wall with shimmering indigo paints laughed in delight, as the high-rise responded with a soaring soprano solo, and transformed itself into an ocean-wise sustainable aquaculture co-operative.
As Song’s music washed through the city, relentlessly recovering, more and more buildings changed. The clawed pawnshop became a public museum, open to all and housing a tiny delicious bistro and an antiques hall. The dank prison became a community centre with rehabilitation programmes and a legal aid clinic. The petrol station and a fast-food restaurant became an electric vehicle charging station, with renewable solar panels on the roof, and a farmers market in a green corner nearby. The busy highways and rushing traffic calmed, replaced by bike paths and electric trams.
As Song’s mother explained, leaning over the counter of her new job in a tiny global coffee shop that had opened in the revived arts, crafts and organic foods market: “The children have almost invented a whole new form of music… and it’s changing our city, for the better.” Unheard by the adults, the little shop itself began to giggle, as its own lilting jig awoke in response to the flute’s magical notes. Song herself heard the music of her own building awaken and fill the air around her with joy, and stepped confidently with Mozart out into the warm sunshine of their new jade and olive green rooftop garden. She smelled the lavender bushes as returning bees buzzed softly around her and her friend, felt the balconies of their green flats bursting with new fruit and flowers below, and smiled in delight as once-grim halls echoed with children’s laughter, and with the music of a real recovery.
I’m happy to announce that I’m a junior editor of an international online journal for and by youth.
Harmony was launched in the UN’s COP26 climate change events in Glasgow on November 6, 2021. This online journal was built on special links that the youth created during the global pandemic lockdowns. They hosted a series of short online tutorials with professors and heads of institutes from world-class universities to inspire young people that were left stranded by COVID-19 school closures.
Cambridge Schools Eco-Councilis organising a mini-series of free 60 minute Online Eco-Seminars to raise awareness of key sustainability challenges and solutions, while schools have been forced online in many countries. Children, students, families and members of the public can register for free over Eventbrite and participate online over Zoom, 4-5pm (UK time) each fortnight from Tuesday 21 April to Tuesday 16 June. Each Online Eco-Seminar focuses on a key sustainable development goal, such as Climate Action (SDG 13), Protecting and Restoring Life on Land (SDG 15) or Agriculture and Food Systems (SDG 2). Each Online Eco-Seminar includes student and expert speakers.
Over zoom, after a 15 mins for tech testing and interactions from 3:45pm to 4pm, student Eco-Councillors and UN Voices of Future Generations child authors / ambassadors, together with world-class experts, will provide a 25-minute introduction to a sustainability challenge, and discuss creative local and solutions. For a further 25 minutes, participants can ask questions and discuss potential solutions and ways to raise education and awareness interactively, followed by a 10-minute closing from the experts and youth speakers by 5pm.
We have raised our voices internationally to ask for climate action, and as we continue protesting online (for the time being). We are also doing it locally, ‘we’ the Cambridge Schools Eco-Council are also protesting to save the River Cam and reduce climate impacts on waterways.
Currently, the river Cam is at 77% less than its long-term average flow for the last year, according to the Environment Agency. This is primarily due to over-abstraction of water from the chalk hills for domestic use. Our tap water mostly comes from the eastern chalk aquifer and we don’t have another source of water. The Cam may seem like it is completely fine and healthy but it is far from it. This is an illusion of how canalised the river is.
“The illusion is perpetuated by putting water back into the headwaters of the streams in the summer to keep those streams running because they have taken so much water out of the chalk.”
Stephen Tomkins, Chair of Cam Valley Forum
“Our rivers and streams are really important – the Cam is the reason for our city, Cambridge. Climate change, together with poorly planned growth, could devastate our water ecosystems, costing us our present and our future. We are speaking out to defend our river.”
The river Cam has been flowing at only 33% of its long term average, according to the Environment Agency. Cambridgeshire’s source of water, the Chalk Hills are running out of water largely due to abstraction beyond what the River itself needs. We as Cambridge Youth Strikers 4 Climate are starting this petition demanding action be taken.
Cambridge’s tap water comes from the Eastern Chalk Aquifer, fed by the chalk streams and filtered naturally by the local chalk hills. We have no other source of water here. Hotter summers are possibly drying the chalk out more. So through climate change and unsustainable abstraction by water companies, with complacency from the Cambridgeshire Country Council and the Cambridge City Council, our Chalk Hills are losing their natural reservoir.
We call upon Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council and water companies (Anglian Water, Cambridge Water and others) to suspend all developments on the Eastern Chalk Aquifer and hold immediate talks between themselves to find an alternative to damaging the chalk streams through over abstraction.
This is not just about preserving drinking water for our human population. The chalk streams are a beautiful natural phenomena, unique to our countryside; in fact 85% of the world’s Chalk streams are found in England. This makes it all the more heartbreaking to see chalk rivers like the River Cam deteriorate under our management.
If you’re a Cambridge citizen, you may not realise how bad river flow is due to how canalised the Cam is. Controlled tightly by locks, damns and weirs the river appears a lot higher than it actually is. But what can still be seen is how poor the water quality is. As Stephen Tomkins (Chairman of the Cam Valley Forum) says, the River Cam has become “a big pond, basically,”.
This is absolutely shameful. In one of the richest and most scientifically advanced cities in the world our renowned river has become “a big pond”. Our aquatic life, from mayflies to trout to otters, are living and dying in “a big pond”. We lecture nations across the world on their mistreatment of their environments and we let our own rivers degrade to nothing but “a big pond”.
Enough is enough, we need the Councils and Water companies to stop playing the defensive and show real leadership over this water crisis. Our well-being’s at stake, our population’s at stake, our rivers’ at stake, our ecosystem’s at stake. No more development until you find a solution!
Save the River Cam! Stop development on Eastern Chalk Aquifer!
Luana, Harry and I, are very excited to have spoken as Youth Strikers in the ‘First Conversation’ consultation on the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan, other local groups also presented and debated their ideas.
As representatives of the Cambridge Eco Council at the Great Debate, we got the voice of the Youth and Climate heard!
Thousands of children across the Anglia region join school strike for climate – by ITV News
Schoolchildren across the Anglia region have joined others across the world in leaving classes to protest against climate change.
Schoolchildren in Cambridge have set up an eco-council to work together to learn about, and find solutions to, the climate and ecological crisis
“We are truly in a climate emergency, and we need to act quickly to prevent an unimaginable future of heatwaves, extreme weather events, crop failures, and eventually wars over resources such as land, food and water. We are afraid for our own future and for generations of children to come, and the terrifying changes are already happening.”
OPEN LETTER FROM CAMBRIDGE SCHOOLCHILDREN
Organisers of the Youth Strike 4 Climate say events will take place in more than 100 towns and cities around the UK in the second walkout for climate action in the UK.
Driven by what students say is “an alarming lack of government leadership on climate action”, the strikes are part of a global day of walkouts and demonstrations by young people in more than 100 countries
Youth Strike 4 Climate in Cambridge: Video and galleries from day of action
An open letter written by Cambridge school children has been sent to more than 40 schools in the area, urging teachers and pupils to attend the strikes and inviting them to join the Cambridge Schools Eco-Council. The letter follows the successful inaugural meeting of the eco-council on March 9, and the second school strike this year on March 15, which saw 500 school pupils take to the streets of the city to highlight the seriousness of the climate crisis.
The open letter says: “We are truly in a climate emergency, and we need to act quickly to prevent an unimaginable future of heatwaves, extreme weather events, crop failures, and eventually wars over resources such as land, food and water. We are afraid for our own future and for generations of children to come, and the terrifying changes are already happening.”
The school strike for climate movement was started by 16 year-old Greta Thunberg in Sweden last year and has now spread worldwide.
“I have a message for everyone… even the smallest child can make a BIG difference! Our new eco-council brings together pupils from schools all across Cambridge, to share our concerns, to cooperate, and to speak out!
We are hosting these Youth Strikes for our Climate in Cambridge, because we are petrified. We care about all the kids here locally and worldwide who will be hurt, or even die in typhoons, floods and droughts.
In school, we learn to be kind, to care for others, and to be responsible. Destroying our whole planet is totally NOT ON. Maybe our decision-makers need to go BACK TO SCHOOL.
Any schools here today are welcome to join the Eco-Council – just come find me with an email address!
And here’s a new chant, for later – Carbon breaks the golden rule; Decision-makers, back to school!”
Nico Roman, 10, from King’s College School in Cambridge, co-chair of Cambridge Schools Eco-Council, and a UNESCO Voices Child Ambassador.
Youth Strike 4 Climate: Hundreds of Cambridge students march through city
Inspired by Swedish climate activist 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, students are calling for the government to take action on global warming.
Up to a 1,000 schoolchildren and university students gathered outside Shire Hall in Cambridge for the Youth Strike 4 Climate at 9.30am.
Waving banners and chanting, the students will march from Shire Hall to the Guildhall from around 10.30am.
It is the second time city students have taken to the streets for climate change. In calling for climate change to be declared an emergency.
The campaigners came from schools and colleges across the region including Chesterton Community College, Impington Village College, Parkside, Coleridge Community College, King’s School, Hills Road Sixth Form College, Witchford Village College and Cambourne Village College.
More media coverage
School pupils of all ages have gathered outside Shire Hall and The Guildhall – Cambridge News
A turquoise sea-turtle hatches beside
her siblings in their golden sandy nest. She blinks her jewel eyes. She is just
a baby – small, vulnerable and endangered. She has only one chance in 2,500 to
survive, a symbol for all life below water if we cannot change our ways. Like
sea-turtles, I have lived on Pacific and Atlantic coasts, swimming Baltic,
Salish and Caribbean seas. To save this TINY life and all ocean creatures, we
need real change, fast.
We Need Oceans Laws and Compliance
Overfishing and illegal fishing must stop. We need new international and national laws to end subsidies. People must only buy sustainably caught seafood (with escape hatches in nets preventing by-catch of turtles) and not endangered species. Waterproof cameras on boats should film tweets and blogs, making citizens act more responsibly. Coast guards, communities and kids can enforce laws on water and land. By law, people will look out for our tiny turtle as she escapes into the sea, starts her migration, and hunts for food to grow.
We Need a Global End to Ocean Rubbish
Dangerous chemicals are polluting our oceans with run-off from fertilizers and pesticides from the land, industrial chemicals, and untreated storm-water. Plastics are collecting in huge islands, hurting sea-turtles, whales and birds. We must end all harmful practices that drive ocean pollution, changing all agriculture and industry so it is clean and healthy. People must reduce, re-use and recycle all waste, cradle-to-grave, especially plastics. This way, pollution won’t poison or strangle our tiny turtle as she swims thousands of kilometres on her migration across the oceans.
We Need New Marine Plans, Protection and Measurement
There are not enough marine protected areas, and many are degraded. Ecosystems are threatened, like bleaching of coral. Climate change is causing serious impacts. Clear targets and plans must guarantee protection for all threatened marine ecosystems, respecting scientists and communities. Kids clubs and everyone can help, including tourists. With safe zones, and better measurement and on-ground action, we can ensure that our tiny turtle, and all her friends have a safe and resilient home. Our sea turtle, not so tiny now, can return to lay her own eggs in the sand. Her hatchlings will be protected, maybe by teams of children like me, as they start their own journeys.
Even the tiniest child can make a big difference for sea turtles, for our oceans and for our future.