The Girl who saved the river

EF’s Canadian Youth Ambassadors is a transformative leadership opportunity that empowers youth to create change at local, national, and global levels. Through community support, mentorship from Members of Parliament (MPs), Senators, and other business leaders—plus perspective-building experiences abroad—EF Canadian Youth Ambassadors creates experiential learning opportunities for students. In the first two years of this five-year initiative, we’ve had some truly inspiring ambassadors, including Stella Bowles, 14.

Stella’s EF Canadian Youth Ambassadors journey began with one simple question: “Why can’t I swim in the river?”

The LeHave River in Nova Scotia, near Stella’s home, was too polluted for her and her friends to swim in—and she wanted to know why. She tested the water quality as part of a science fair project and was shocked by the level of contamination she found. So, she let the world know—by posting her results on Facebook. She quickly gathered a large following and caught the attention of her Municipal Council.

The contamination was traced back to 600 straight pipes funnelling 1000 litres of raw or partially treated sewage directly into the water from homes along the river. The thing is, the use of straight pipes is illegal under the Nova Scotia Environment Act and so a change had to be made.

Why are straight pipes allowed if they are illegal?

Stella began testing the La Have River for Fecal Contamination in 2015, but as she learned more her project got bigger and bigger.

Since beginning her environmental campaign she’s achieved some incredible things. The Federal Government pledged $15.7 million to help clean up the river. She’s worked to inspire other students in Nova Scotia through workshops and her new book, My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River. Recently, her Municipal Council voted in favour of applying for the Federal Government’s $17 million Building Canada Fund—which will cover two-thirds of the cost to remove the straight sewage pipes (with homeowners paying the other third over seven years). It’s estimated all 600 pipes will be eliminated by 2023.

As an EF Canadian Youth Ambassador, Stella joined her fellow Ambassadors for an unforgettable journey into the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, staying at the Minga Lodge with our partners at ME to WE. “I met other kids on this trip who I could really relate with, and in a way, I feel less alone in my unique journey of environmental activism,” she told us. “I went from being a little girl focused on one river, to riding a boat down the Napo River in the Amazon! How crazy and awesome is that?”

As she broadens her environmental activism outward from her original mission, this journey has allowed her to see how essential initiatives like hers are to the world. For her and others like her, EF Canadian Youth Ambassadors has created a collaborative environment where young people can cultivate their ideas in groups of like-minded peers. It’s one way we are empowering our future leaders to create real and lasting change in this world.

Topics: Learning Guide, Student Story

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