It’s often the voices of courage and hope that resonate most powerfully when facing daunting global challenges. This month, we are pleased to share a blog post from our partner, Girl Rising, that highlights the critical role women and girls have as catalysts for change. Our changing climate impacts everyone, but it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, particularly women and girls, who bear the greatest burden.

At Imago Dei we’re grateful to uplift partners who amplify voices like Charitie Ropati’s through transformative initiatives such as the Future Rising Fellowship program. Charitie’s message of “radical joy” amidst the climate crisis serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience inherent in communities facing adversity.

For climate action to be successful or sustainable, it must involve women. We value Girl Rising’s approach to nurturing the voices of young women, so they can tell the stories of the impact of climate change on them and their communities on the global stage. Their work to empower young leaders to become advocates working at the intersection of gender equity and climate justice can change the way the world values girls and their education.

We recognize that climate action must be inclusive and equitable, with women and girls in the communities that are impacted playing central roles in decision-making processes. By nurturing the next generation of leaders and lifting up their voices, we lay the groundwork for a more equitable, sustainable, and climate-safe future for all. – The Imago Dei Team

“I am here to remind you of an indigenous practice that I believe is vital: Joy. When the land is healthy, the people are healthy. But it is also true that when the people are healthy, the land is healthy. So we must approach this unprecedented time of crisis with optimism and hope. Have the courage to invest directly in joy and the joy of our communities.”

This message about ‘radical joy’ was delivered by Yu-pik and Samoan Future Rising Fellow Charitie Ropati, in a keynote speech she gave recently at the United Nations during the 2024 Partnership Forum of the Economic and Social Council.

Her audience – 500 UN delegates and Ambassadors, as well as Charitie’s own parents who traveled from Alaska – blinked back tears as Charitie shared stories about the trauma and ‘hard decisions’ shouldered by native people in the face of the climate crisis.
Charitie shared the story of how, in 1967, her great grandfather and others from the community physically moved their village 11 miles northwest to save it from sinking due to permafrost melting. Now an engineering student at Columbia University, Charitie studies permafrost and will graduate as the first native woman to earn a civil engineering degree in Columbia’s 270 year history. Reminding the assembly that Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the earth’s population but protect 80% of the biodiversity, Charitie demanded more of global leaders. “Invest in communities that have continuously adapted to climate change, communities like my own. Decisions should not be made about us, without us,” she urged.

Charitie’s speech stood out because she told a powerful story. “While she was unwavering in her demand that global leaders wake up to the consequences of their inaction, the beautiful stories Charitie shared of joyous moments cutting fish with her grandmother, or watching her mother graduate college, illustrated the powerful, even daring, act of fighting indifference with optimism. Charitie’s work and approach makes us all rethink our roles in this crisis” said Nicole Savini, Future Rising’s Executive Producer.

“I learned from my mother to never be wordless when my community needs me.” Charitie said. “So I have traveled over 3000 miles to find myself in a position to tell you: Stop pretending that this crisis is not happening and take direct action. I believe that a just transition from the fossil fuel industry is possible, I need you all to believe this as well.”

Her speech earned a rousing applause and was referred to and lauded by numerous speakers during the rest of the day’s programming. Canadian Ambassador Bob Rae began his remarks by saying, “I want to congratulate Charitie Ropati on a wonderful speech today… Your speech had great impact. Keep going. Don’t stop (more applause)”. We at Girl Rising echo Ambassador Rae’s sentiments. It is an enormous privilege to work with young women leaders like Charitie through the Future Rising Fellowship program. The Future Rising Fellows are a growing presence on global stages all over the world. Their work for climate and gender justice and their speaking truth to power is a lesson for all of us, and truly a reason for optimism and joy. Thank you, Charitie.

Charitie’s entire speech can be viewed here.

This post first appeared on the Girl Rising website and has been reposted here with permission.