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What does it mean to dedicate your life to making a better world?

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Many professional and young activists from different parts of the world are playing an essential role in taking more significant action to address climate change and environmental issues in their societies.

At Parami University, students are well-equipped to become effective change agents and contributing global community members in the future. To allow Parami undergraduate students to learn from professionals, Parami has invited many guest lecturers worldwide. Our last guest lecturer was Etelle Higonnet, an independent environmental expert who is one of the top cast in the Netflix documentary series: Bitten Chocolate (Rotten). Under the topic of a Case study on how to reform companies to make them more sustainable: Changing the cocoa industry, she shared her activism journey and valuable lessons with Parami students, who are passionate about bringing changes to their communities.

In her opening remark, Etelle Higonnet said that “I wanted to take a step back and just chat with you about hope, about activism, and about what it means to dedicate your life to try to make the world a better place, not out of fear or guilt but out of love and joy. And, I'm mindful that all of you are a generation that, in a sense, my generation, older generations, have betrayed because we are giving you a planet that is in a real climate crisis. And, you know, old people from my generation basically we're stupid, we've missed all the memos from Mother Earth about climate chaos…The need for justice for economic justice and the need to fight inequality. And so your generation is kind of been handed a very rough deal of fairness, very severe climate change and income inequality around the world, and a great deal of injustice and conflict. But I think what gives me hope is that your generation is amazing. I see young people your age stepping up to make things right. And I really believe in the power of youth and the power of youth activists. And that's why I wanted to share with you today some little lessons that I learned as I went on my activist journey.”

Etelle Higonnet worked as a Senior Advisor at the National Wildlife Federation. Previously for five years, she worked at Mighty Earth as Senior Campaigns Director; and before that, she worked for Greenpeace as Southeast Asia Research Director; at Amnesty International; and at Human Rights Watch. She was named a Chevalier of France’s Ordre National du Mérite (National Order of Merit) for her work to protect the environment, especially for her efforts in combating deforestation in the cocoa, palm oil, rubber, soy, and beef industries. She has a BA degree from Yale University and graduated from Yale law school in 2005.

Etelle Higonnet highlighted some insights about her role and contribution to the team cocoa campaign in Western Africa.

She explained that she chose the cocoa industry to campaign for a change because she thought it was a strategic focus. And often, that also means thinking about where other people are not working, either because it's too dangerous, too weird, or just not very well known. So, it may be interesting to many people to know that one-third of climate change comes from food.

“When you're trying to focus on something, I find it useful to reflect on what's the most important space where you can have the biggest impact,” said Etelle Higonnet.

Before the lecture session, students had a chance to watch a Netflix documentary series: Bitten Chocolate (Rotten). The documentary exposes the environmental issue affected by the chocolate industry in Ghana and Ivory Coast, Western Africa, where most cocoa trees are planted.

Some students reflected on how they connected the information learned from the documentary and their own life. The guest lecturer sparked the students' leadership potential and activism spirit and encouraged them to dedicate themselves to bringing positive change to their societies.

“It reminds me that Myanmar people are also reinforcing to use of local products to avoid the schemes of the military. When I see the chocolate bars in the supermarket, I used to see the image of sweetness but now, the image changes to a cruel identity after watching “Bitter chocolate.” I decided not to buy chocolate or other products, even though they are said to be sustainable and ethical until I checked the sources of the products. Last but not least is that I will share the naked truths of chocolate sources with my community and be encouraged them to buy local chocolate bars.” ⸺Calss of 2026

“This information in this video absolutely reflects the current conditions of the community I am living in. As I am from a peasant family background, I can definitely relate to the circumstances in the video. As peasants work long hours and use physical strength, I suppose they are worth earning the amount they deserve. However, the reality is bitter for farmers. Their main income is selling products they plant, and the annual income does not cover their basic needs. Fertilizer is way more expensive for them, and it is crucial to consider the right of farmers to be urgently promoted. Child labor is normalized in the farming industry as lacking access to education. Being exploited is normal in the farming industry, yet they do not know their rights. Spreading education is the most crucial way to stop from being exploited and empowering the capacity of the farming industry.” ⸺Calss of 2026

“Deforestation in Myanmar is also due to the lack of education and knowledge, poverty, and making profits by powerful groups of people. And most of the citizens, including my family and friends, are not aware of their consumption choices and their consequences. After watching this, I realized that spreading awareness plays an important role in tackling and making improvements for the social problems that we face today.” ⸺Class of 2026

During the guest lecture session, students actively discussed similar issues that they found interesting and relevant to their regions, such as climate change, air pollution, and deforestation.

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