Belén Gómez is a 25-year-old physiotherapy student born in the city of Latacunga, home of her maternal grandparents in Ecuador. Growing up in the city of Quito, home of her family, Gómez has taken her climate activism to the streets, leading youth protests. In 2019, she founded Fridays For Future (FFF) in Ecuador.
She started alone in the organization in her country; but today there are more than 20 young activists who are part of the base group and thousands of more young people join their calls in social networks and in the protests in the streets to demand urgent climate action.
Gómez started activism after seeing the fight in some Ecuadorian territories against the mining. The indigenous customs that she inherited from the maternal side of her family allowed her understand the importance of caring for the planet, while the rebellion that she inherited from her paternal family who taught her that it is correct to raise her voice and not allow it to be silenced: “I seek to be able to live on a healthy planet with a future in which we do not have to fight for water or for clean air, I also seek respect for the indigenous peoples since I consider that they are “main protectors of the nature”.
Atlas Sarrafoğlu: How is the climate crisis affecting people’s lives in general? What do you think is the solution to protect your country from the impacts of climate change?
Belén Gómez: The climate crisis has been affecting us in Ecuador as it increases the appearance of more violent meteorological phenomena, droughts, fires, the death of animal and plant species, the overflow of rivers and lakes, the appearance of climate refugees and the destruction of the media subsistence and economic resources.
Protection against climate change in my country is to take real, real projects in which the protection of the environment is taken into account and not allow extractive companies to enter indigenous territory that only cause destruction and damage to nature in general.
‘Without climate justice, there are no human rights, no equality’
As a person of indigenous roots, how would you say indigenous peoples have been affected by the climate crisis in Ecuador?
The indigenous peoples of Ecuador first suffer from a very marked discrimination in which the indigenous communities do not have a good education, health, they are not taken into account when making important decisions such as mining, oil, which are the most important issues discussed in Ecuador. We see how in Ecuador the main ones affected by the climate crisis are the indigenous peoples since they do not have the adequate tools to be able to defend themselves despite the fact that they are the main defenders on the front line of nature (pachamama) since they are the ones who have a great connection with our mother earth, they have the knowledge of their ancestors to defend and protect mother earth.
What is the perception of your government regarding tackling the climate crisis?
The current government in its campaign is committed to being a government that cares for and protects nature. That was seen but we must take into account that the government with its ministries have carried out projects such as the expansion of the marine reserve of the Galapagos Islands, but there is still work to be done in the territory. By this, I mean that the government has to unite with society to create spaces in which the government unites with children, youth, adults, environmental organizations of the country to be able to work for our country in the face of climate change and thus not see social classes, not discriminate and demonstrate that this government does not violate human rights since without climate justice, there are no human rights and there is no equality.
How did you start your activism and how do you organize your strikes in Ecuador? Do you work in a specific area on the climate crisis?
How did I start my activism? It’s a good question since I was little. I was taught to take care of nature and animals in general. I was born in a Latin American country. I’m a woman. What does that mean? It means that women didn’t have the freedom to raise their voices, do what they wanted since Latin America reigns patriarchy. But my story is; a girl who grew up in a family that taught her to be rebellious in a sense. If something was wrong, I had to speak up to defend what is right for me, to defend nature, not allowing injustice, not allowing classism, racism, wanting a world of equality in which we are all equal, defend nature by the teachings of my maternal and paternal grandparents for continuing with their traditions, customs that their grandparents and Parents taught them to protect our mother earth, protect our roots, our culture. That’s why this girl, this young woman and adolescent became an activist to raise her voice to protect her home, her culture, and raise the voice of those who are not heard.
‘The youth raising their voices for our present and future gives me strength’
I started the strikes on Fridays in the Plaza Grande, a place where the Carondelet Palace is located, where the president and the municipality of the city of Quito are, where the mayor is located. I held the strike on Fridays with a toad made of recyclable materials and a poster for an hour. I did it when I felt freedom in my country because the government did not persecute you for going to protest since the old government persecuted you. That is why I started the fight because I felt free and did not get persecuted (does it mean something like tortured?) by the government of my country.
I belong mainly to Fridays For Future Ecuador because I am one of the founders and I belong to Fridays For Future MAPA and Internacional, I also belong to Tremendas Ecuador in the Environmental area.
At Fridays For Future Ecuador we focus on the protection of flora and fauna at the national level and indigenous peoples.
Please tell us about what it is that makes you feel hopeful about the future? What actually inspires your activism?
It is a difficult question, there are days when I feel defeated, because I wonder why I fight if the rulers and the people themselves do not see how serious climate change is, there are so many congresses, meetings with world leaders that as a human being you ask yourself this is going make a change but at the end of the day it’s the same as always, but in the end what gives me strength to keep fighting first is my family, my customs, my home and the thousands of young people around the world who fight for the same thing makes you to see that you are not fighting alone, that there are more young rebels raising their voices for our present and our future, that is what gives me the strength to fight every day until I see a healthy planet, and not a planet that today cries out for help.
What does this phrase mean to me, that we must fight for what we believe is right without hurting or harming a person and always focus on who we are, keeping our roots without being ashamed of them, for a present and future with a healthy planet and in which human rights are respected.
You have been to COP27. What were you expecting and what actually happened, can you explain your hopes and feelings as well?
COP27 was my first COP, it was the first time I felt that my voice, that of my grandparents, was not ignored, silenced. I say this because to go to a COP you need accreditation, and financing for which I am thankful because I had them. I could feel fear, joy, sadness, inadequacy because I had so many things to say that I feel to this day. I could only say 50% of everything I wanted to say. I experienced new things, I learned a lot, I had the opportunity to work every day I was there. At the COP, you will talk about what is happening in your country, you attend the negotiations, talks, and meetings in which I was able to be a part and I hope I have given my all in that COP, having contributed and not having disappointed people. The COP also tires you mentally and physically. But I realized when I was returning to my country to continue working with everything learned at the COP to create more projects that may help my country and the indigenous communities of my country including everything without leaving anyone behind.
First COP and I did not know what to expect but everything lived and learned there was a lesson, and it was an engine to continue working for climate justice in which human rights are respected without differences of social classes that is climate justice in which equality exists and is respected.
If you had a microphone to address the world leaders, what would you say to them about the climate crisis?
That is the great dream that I have at this moment and thank you for asking, because I want to be in front of the world leaders because I feel that they do not listen to us, that they do not see the relationship between our countries, that they do not suffer from the problems of climate change, that we are suffering now. I want them to hear it from a normal and common person who had the courage to go out into the streets and raise their voices to have a present and a future, dreaming of seeing a healthy planet and not seeing how it is dying today slowly and the animals and plants become extinct. I want to tell them that they are a human being, too and that we have to make a change, that we are the most intelligent animal on this planet but that this same super intelligent animal is destroying our home, our only home. I want them to see the relationship of the indigenous peoples of my country as they are being affected by polluted water and contaminated crops that they see how they suffer from climate change. I would tell them that they can become superheroes since it is in their hands to protect us or extinguish us, it is in their hands to save us or lead us to extinction, that it is in their hands that they show me that they are not just men and women dressed in suits who do business with extractivist companies and fill their pockets without seeing the damage they do to us. I want to tell them that our present and future is in their hands and that we work hard every day to save our planet. I would tell them to join us, we are not their enemies we all live on this small planet, in the third planet of the solar system, the third planet that puts our life in their hands and the last thing I would say is not to let us down again, because until our last day and with our last breath we will defend our home, our planet earth so that it can survive without the extinction of flora and fauna, without diseases, and that it can be a healthy planet because it is our only planet.
‘Governments should unite against the crisis’
What is your perception of the future in regards to the climate crisis? How do you envision yourself in 2030?
My perception of the future regarding the climate crisis is encouraging, worrying, but at the same time promising because there are thousands of young people who are fighting from our trenches, contributing with our grain of sand to save our home. I hope to continue having the strength to continue fighting for my planet creating projects despite the fact that our voice is not heard or taken into account, always fighting for a better present and future, seeking solutions and spaces so that they know the reality of my country in the face of the climate crisis.
As I imagine 2030, thinking about that date scares me because I don’t know how the planet will continue to behave with the climate crisis plus floods, droughts, destruction of homes, migration because their homes were destroyed, etc. I have the thought that it will be worse, firstly because some people and although it may seem like a joke do not believe in climate change and secondly that our leaders say they take action, it simply remains in words and on paper. They have done nothing to combat climate change. I hope and this year the governments unite, put aside their ambitions to fill their pockets with money and worry about something that is happening that we see with our eyes and that we, young people like I, continue to scream for actions that are real and not empty words.
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