The 35th Caretakers of the Environment International Conference was a fully virtual conference hosted by Ireland from July 5th - July 9th 2021.
The theme for the conference: Sustainable communities: working together locally and globally for a sustainable future.
This conference was jointly run by CEI Ireland and the CEI alumni.
The conference hosts: Andrew Cox (former CEI President/Chairman of CEI Ireland) and Laura Kelly (Senior Alumni Secretary/CEI Ireland Secretary).
For the second time in CEI history, the 35th annual conference took place virtually due to the Covid 19 pandemic. CEI 2021 was hosted by a small team with the main organising team consisting of CEI hosts, Andrew Cox (former CEI president and head of the CEI Ireland branch) and Laura Kelly (Secretary of the Senior Alumni Committee), and the Senior Alumni Committee: Jana Cox (SA Chairperson & CEI 2021 Programme Coordinator), Samuel Thelaus (Junior Alumni Coordinator & CEI 2021 Registration), Julien Beuken (Senior Alumni Liaison & CEI 2021 Social Media) and Nadia Young (Social Media Director). We were then assisted before and during the conference by our Teacher’s Representative (Vildana), the Junior Alumni (Kazi & Sofia), Alumni assistants (Ariq, Diana), Irish volunteers (Ellie, Molly, Sadhbh, Shannon) and members of the Senior Alumni Network (Alberto, Gosia).
To allow for different time zones, the conference was split into three slots, a morning session (9am -12.30pm Irish time), a central session (1-3pm Irish time) and an afternoon session (4-6pm Irish time). Over the course of the week we welcomed over 450 participants from 22 countries, making it one of the largest conferences in CEI history. As it was virtual and a variety of time zones, it made it both more accessible and flexible than a usual conference, likely accounting for the higher numbers. Participants made a huge effort, regardless of the how early or late it was for them, to take part in as much of the jampacked, interactive programme as they could – a special shoutout to participants in Costa Rica and Mexico who became nocturnal during the week of CEI 2021 so they could attend the full conference day!
The conference featured some of the ‘normal’ Caretakers activities, such as the project presentations where students across the globe presented and discussed the actions, research and work they had undertaken as part of their CEI projects in their communities, whether their community was urban, rural or coastal/water. To allow for less technical issues during the project presentations, students pre-recorded their presentations, which allowed more time for questions afterwards, more creative (we had everything from powerpoints to films) and less nervous students! This year, we again also had the 48 hour projects, which allowed students who had not prepared a project for CEI 2021 (due to time issues or Covid19) to join together and undertake a project during the conference in just 48 hours, showing that even small actions can make a big difference!
The highlight for the students (as per their reflections on the final day) were definitely the workshops. This year we had two types of workshops on 2 different days: educational workshops (with topics ranging from sustainable tourism to climate justice to carbon offsetting) and cultural workshops (with topics ranging from Viking runes to Irish dancing to Irish landscape painting). Cultural workshops were new for 2021 as we wanted to bring some Irish culture to the participants as they unfortunately couldn’t be here in person. All workshop leaders put a lot of effort in to make the workshops informative, interactive and fun and we are truly grateful for their help.
Another special part of the CEI 2021 conference were our amazing speakers, who spoke about everything from biodiversity to sustainable food to DABing (Doing a Bit). One particular highlight was kicking off the opening ceremony with former Irish present and climate justice activist, Mary Robinson. She is a true inspiration and spoke about the power young people have to really make a difference in the world.
Lastly, the students took part in many social activities throughout the conference run by the Clan Leaders, everything from CEI Bakeoff to Lyric Board to Clan Games. They also took part in a virtual flashmob to songs by Irish artists which premiered at the closing ceremony. The clans earned points throughout for their participation in the activities and the winning clan was Clan Bumblebee. While the students took part in these the teachers were privileged to have extra speakers and discussions, ranging from Citizen Science to Climate Law to Zero Waste.
By Laura Kelly
Download the conference programme click here