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   1      : The yurt where it all started

Figure 1: The yurt where it all started

WEN’s Environmental Leadership Internship by Ana Llie

With a degree in Anthropology and a fascination for that inextricable connection that people of different cultures have with the plants they grow for food, I jumped at the Environmental Leadership programme that WEN offered. I was excited to get involved in food growing initiatives in Tower Hamlets, my current home, a borough welcoming so many different cultures, habits, and life-journeys, yet also sees stark economic inequalities and is under the constant threat of gentrification.

The internship allowed us to focus on our area of interest, while at the same time presenting us with multiple trainings, workshops, and opportunities to contribute meaningfully to the different other campaigns that WEN runs.

I was happy to find how different we, the interns, were among each other, in terms of cultural background, life paths, and interests, but also how well these all came together to brainstorm ideas, inspire and motivate each other, and join our forces at the events that the WEN team has been running over the past 2 months. To me, this can very well represent on a small scale the value of diversity and co-operation in projects to achieve healthier environments and communities.

Throughout the programme, I learnt that leadership can take different forms and exist in all contexts in our lives; That its representation does not have to be a president or a (usually white male) CEO, but it can be your mother that supports you to follow your interests, a teacher telling you in school that you are capable of great things in life, or a colleague that helps a peer launch their career by connecting them to a project where their work is valued. And that the latter can bring more change in the society than the former. Most importantly, we were encouraged to find those skills and the drive to be those leaders ourselves, in our own communities, among our own family, friends and peers.

Most importantly, we have been supported to develop our skills and interests and had a space to reflect on and discuss about our own lived experiences and projects for the future. Such spaces are essential for realising what drives us as individuals, what challenges each of us are facing in our life paths and how to overcome them.

I am now determined to gain deeper knowledge and expertise in the role that planting food in the city has in mitigating climate change and furthering social justice. The experience and exposure that I gained through the internship allowed me to better understand the environmental challenges and opportunities in Tower Hamlets, and the role that community organisations, housing associations, policy makers and planners play in shaping the future of the area. From here, I wish to further my studies into environmental technologies, to learn how to design plans and policy that connect emerging research with grassroots experiences in order to tackle climate change and social inequity. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with WEN and the Tower Hamlets Food Growing Network. These past 10 weeks left me feeling inspired, more confident and with fresh plans and hopes for the future.

Plus, we had quite a few opportunities to make some furry or feathered friends. What more could one ask for?

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