Sticking out a paint-covered hand, Amalen reaches over to greet a new arrival at the Rhizome Collective “It’s Dry!” he assures them, with a warm smile. Easy going and friendly, Amalen spent much of his time at COY and COP23 practicing “art-ivism”, as he calls it: the practice of using art as a medium for activism work. Amalen not only made his own banners, capes, puppets, posters, and prints, but he helped others to do so as well. He was one of three people leading the ArtSpace at this year’s conference. Along with Danny & Kevin, they set up a space where youth could gather and provided resources for their creative expression with the goal of launching actions and campaigns, protests and calls for support during the two weeks of UN negotiations on climate change.
Amalen is from Malaysia, and has spent nearly a decade dedicated to environmental justice, indigenous rights, and capacity-building. Long before I even knew what that word meant, Amalen was leading training sessions on how to communicate your message, organize volunteers, and influence policy in creative & effective ways. He even spent time leading corporate trainings commercially. I had the pleasure of getting to know Amalen over the past year. He participated in Care About Climate’s Online Youth Exchange, where we gathered in online webinars to discuss some of the very same issues that he trained people on. We met in person in July in China during the CYCAN International Youth Summit on Energy & Climate Change.
When we went to visit Amalen in the Rhizome ArtSpace during Week 1 of COP, he gave us a quick tour, then put us to work on making a banner for our action: asking negotiators to step up their Nationally Determined Contributions to close the emissions gap to protect the lives and livelihoods of future generations. “Start with a quick background on your fabric, it makes the words stand out really well and draws attention towards the center! There are paints and rollers over in that bin. Just remember, personal responsibility is sexy, so please clean up after yourself!” We got to work painting as he scurried off to help another group. There were at least four actions planned for Thursday, and more on Friday- each requiring a team working alongside each other in the Rhizome.
Amalen is also the coordinator for the Actions Working Group among the youth in COP this year, and used his
organizational skills to create an easy-to-use form to register an action with UN security (under the UNFCCC Secretariat) and a spreadsheet of all the actions that were planned so that we could support each other’s events and draw a crowd. Amalen is a fantastic leader, in that he knows when to step back and let others shine, while supporting in the background. He is a critical thinker, creative and mentor. Back home, he serves as Chief Executive Farmer at Tu:Gu with his friend Kelvin, another youth delegate at COP23. They started their aeroponics farm less than 6 months ago with all recycled and repurposed materials.
A “typical” day at COP for him looks like this:
7:00 Wake up
8:15 Leave for Bonn Zone
9:00 YOUNGO daily meeting
10:00 Actions working group meeting
11:00 Zip over to Bula Zone to catch some negotiations
12:00 Bike back into the center of Bonn to open the ArtSpace
12:00 Send emails about that day’s actions
14:00 Make some fabric prints
16:00 Take inventory of supplies and pick up more
18:00 ArtSpace fills with youth, community members, and other Art-tivists
22:00 ArtSpace closes, some people stay late to finish
23:00 Start cleaning up and hang the last of the banners to dry
00:00 Arrive back at the hostel, start working on press releases, and check emails
3:00 Climb in bed
This is just a taste of what Amalen does, as there is so much more that he was going each day that I missed. While COP is over now, If you’re in Bonn, be sure to go visit the Rhizome Collective at Dorotheenstrabe 99, Bonn. And check out some of the powerful actions Amalen has done in the past in this trailer to the film, Voices Not Heard: The Climate Fight of Malaysian Youth, by Director Scott Brown.
If you’re interested in seeing or screening the film with your school or organization, please contact Scott Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sarah Voska
Sarah Voska is a delegate to the UN climate change conference, COP23, and the director of the Online Youth Exchange. She studies Sustainable Management at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Use the #ClimateSign to join the fight against climate change. Contact us at email@example.com with any questions!