Recently, we chatted with 28-year-old Dainalyn Swaby, a climate communicator who started her communications journey with the USAID-supported activity Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (JaREEACH). From 2012 to 2019, JaREEACH worked to protect rural lives, livelihoods and ecosystems in targeted Jamaican communities affected by climate change through adaptation and resilience.
What do you believe is needed to convince Jamaican youth that climate change is real and will continue to have a significant impact on our society if we do not act now?
The encouraging thing is that young people are becoming increasingly aware of the impacts of climate change. We need clearer communication that emphasizes the “how this affects me” element. We also need to show that there are increasing opportunities for young people to participate in activities that address climate change at different levels.
Take us back to your time with the USAID-supported JAREEACH project. Can you explain your role as the communications coordinator and share some of the challenges you encountered?
Wow, there were so many great moments working on that project! I started out as an intern and transitioned to my role as a full-time communications coordinator. One of the things that I must highlight is my gratitude to the team for the confidence they had in me as a fresh university graduate to lead the communications portfolio. It demonstrated how sincere they were in empowering young people as changemakers, a cause I continue to advance.
However, through the many outreach and engagement activities that I participated in, I realized that not everyone immediately understood or was able to articulate the concept of climate change in conversation. In the beginning, few people instantly made connections between climate change and its impact on their daily lives. They always seemed to think it was something that was more serious abroad. While they were used to extreme weather events, they didn’t link what was happening to climate change. In my role as a communications coordinator, the challenge was to constantly find ways to break down this information and bring the ideas around climate change closer to the realities of people.
And what were some of your best moments?
I loved that the job was not strictly desk assignments – I was never bored, ever! I waded through streams, slid down slopes, visited farms, schools and numerous other locations across the length and breadth of Jamaica. This allowed me to witness how climate change impacted individuals and their livelihoods, as well as the difference the project made in helping people respond to climate challenges.
One of my best moments was working with the technical team to observe World Environment Day. We put together an awareness session and farmers’ workday in one of our Portland-based communities. It involved learning sessions at several primary schools followed by tree planting activities. I loved that some of the farmers, who were also parents, planted trees alongside their children.
What is the greatest success from this project?
Our tagline was “educate, inspire and empower,” and I saw that happening in every community and group that we engaged with. One of the things that I was most proud of was seeing how our youth-focused activities, especially our climate change conference series, impacted so many young people. We engaged with nearly 3,000 youth in the three conferences throughout the series. I saw youth who knew nothing about climate change or were not concerned with climate change who are now championing this cause, not just at a local level but even internationally.
Who do you think are some of the key actors/stakeholders that can drive home the message of climate change to the Jamaican young people, and why?
There is power in groups. So when you have more people who are doing active work in climate change, it will influence other young people to become interested. When they see the value not just in terms of their civic role and responsibility, but also the opportunities that can come from their representation – social entrepreneurship, eco entrepreneurship, or overall just seeing the impact of their collective effort -- that is added motivation.
Youth also know how to make work fun and appeal to their counterparts, and most young people love knowing they are part of something bigger than themselves. They want to have a hand in making Jamaica better for those who will come after them. It’s a positive chain reaction; when you have young people who are actively engaged in churning out creative and sustainable projects, other youth will want to be a part of that.
You also have your own podcast. Tell us about it.
My podcast Global Yaadie captures colorful and powerful conversations on climate change, culture, and sustainable living. As the name suggests, I connect with people not just in Jamaica but also across the globe.
Through a human-interest lens, I explore guests’ passion for climate change, as well as the environment, women empowerment, youth development, and cultural preservation. Some recent topics include climate justice and communities of color; eco-living through family, business, and social life; technology and climate change; gender equality; and climate innovations and solutions, such designing artificial wetlands to protect communities from flooding.
You are currently studying in the UK. What comes next for you after completing your studies?
The next step for me is to expand on my role as a climate communicator. I am working on developing more culturally appropriate products and strategies to drive awareness and action linked to climate change and sustainability.
As a young person yourself, why are you so passionate about climate change, and what knowledge would you like to impart to other young people, not just Jamaicans but globally?
I am passionate because I have seen the difference it has made in people’s lives when they choose to act rather than question or be pessimistic about why their actions won’t make a difference. I have also witnessed and experienced the harsh realities of climate change.
The most important word is community. At every level, communities are taking action, and there are always opportunities for everyone to be part of a community. If you think you can’t make a difference on your own, join a group and see the difference it makes when you work together.
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From 2015 to 2019, JaREEACH helped over 3,000 people take actions to build their resilience to climate change related challenges. Over 800 community members and other beneficiaries implemented risk reduction actions with USAID’s support. This included climate-smart projects, such as water harvesting, storage and distribution, waste management and recycling, agribusiness investments, and youth climate change advocacy and action. As a result of JaREEACH, local, regional, and national institutions -- including 160 government, non-government and private sector institutions -- are now systematically integrating climate and disaster risk considerations and best practices.
About the Author
Kimberley Weller is the Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID’s Mission in Jamaica.