Learning from intergenerational dialogue

Between August 2023 and March 2024, HelpAge International and Restless Development together with a researcher from Newcastle University (working with the Living Deltas Hub) supported a pilot activity to test assumptions about the value of an intergenerational approach to support locally-led responses to the climate crisis. The initiative collaborated with local partners and facilitators in Uganda and Nepal to co-design a series of dialogues in rural and urban locations for younger and older women and men to share their experiences of climate change, coping strategies and ideas for future action.

Climate change is affecting all of us across the globe, especially some of us even more who are in the climate vulnerable geographies of the global south. My country Nepal’s fragility with a heating-up planet is quite evident with the impact we see here all through the year. People of my generation and my parents’ generation can easily compare the ‘then’ and ‘now’ situation of climate change. I remember I used to have dry skin and red cheeks during the winter season.  During summer, neither I saw fans and coolers at my house nor at my neighbor and relatives house. I am sure most of us have a similar kind of experience in Kathmandu, Nepal. Even three years ago, I was not aware that climate change can affect multiple areas of people’s lives. But today, I work closely with my colleagues at Restless, partners, funders and most importantly community members of all diversities to address the causes and impact of climate change across different regions of Nepal. Over this journey, I have realized, it’s never too late to learn and realize your responsibility for our planet. 

Over the last year, I have had a very meaningful, learning journey of being a part of the project “Responding to climate change – an intergenerational approach” in partnership between HelpAge International, Restless Development, and Newcastle university. This provided me with a meaningful experience of leading a creative approach to facilitate such a crucial process in Nepal. It deepened my understanding of the interconnected nature of climate change in Nepal as I joined the conversations of local young people and elderly people from Madhesh province, the smallest province in Nepal with one of the highest population densities in the country. Furthermore, the Madhesh province being so vulnerable to various natural disasters such as floods, droughts, storms, cold waves, and heatwaves – it was even more critical that we heard the community voices from the most vulnerable. 

The dialogue aimed to pilot the assumption of the values in bringing generations together for collective action on climate change. The uniqueness of the project was to conduct the intergenerational dialogue in rural areas and urban areas separately and to see how the difference in location, age, background etc. brings different perspectives. I always believed that the grassroot experience always gives you life changing learning, far better from the books, paper and desk research. This project proved it again with an even stronger affirmation. This interaction with the ‘library of human knowledge and experiences’ of sorts is something that I always valued the most and thus, this intergenerational dialogue process has been very close to my heart.  

Talking about the on-ground nuances of the project, it was evident that the on-field scenario was a bit different from our initial theory of how it might go. What we assumed before on how our conversations might turn out was very different on the ground – in many positive ways. We were totally surprised to observe elderly women from rural areas openly sharing their experiences on climate change – with such diverse details. Pushed to the corners by societal norms over the years, these women were rather encouraging male participants to speak up during these conversations. The power dynamic that we expected was pleasantly uprooted and the voices from the hitherto unheard were echoed the most. And, a young person from the same area was sharing how their understanding of technology, digital media could help in addressing climate challenges in the region. It was heartening to see the young people from rural areas voicing their thoughts so loud and clear. 

It was painful to hear some of the stories from elderly people – as they shared how in the last 30 years, more than half of the forest areas that they grew up in have been cleaned up. Rivers, once the lifeline of their childhood times, are dried completely or polluted to its core. They have seen people audaciously destroying the forests in their vicinity. They have failed to see any sort of accountability from the local or national governments. Parents from rural areas are compelled to send their children to urban areas for livelihood since the agriculture production is very low now due to climate change. While sending children to urban areas, they have to manage high interest loans which adds to their financial burden. Every year people here lose their lives and livelihoods due to the effect of climate change. These were just a tiny fraction of the immense learnings and reflections we could capture through our conversations. 

The intergenerational dialogue also revealed the diverse perspectives across the younger generation and the elder generation. I saw young people seeking solutions with an optimistic view, with support from elder generations, and the older generations seemed stressful and were looking to contribute through their lived experiences. The Older generation sought their fellow community members to solve their issues. Younger generations were ready to take initiation if they were properly guided. There is no doubt that young people are the solutions to climate change. They have passion, inspiration, energy, positive attitude and hope, and when supported with the immense knowledge and lived experiences of building resilience that older people bring together – there’s a strong possibility of positive change. 

After the dialogue, what I feel is the inclusion of young people in the decision making process is a must. Investment in young people should be made mandatory if we really want to look at young people in leadership roles. But, we must explore the support of elderly people to mentor the young generation. Why not establish youth –adult partnership to tackle the issues? Intergenerational dialogue holds great significance in the current context. The whole process over the last few months has given me immense hope and learnings to lead further action on the ground to drive initiatives combining such intergenerational perspectives and conversations along with collaborative, collective climate change responsive action on the ground – which should include young people, older community members, government, ecosystem builders, private sector, and other key stakeholders. 

On 25th April 2024, colleagues from HelpAge International, Restless Development in Nepal and Uganda, and Newcastle University’s Oral History Unit will share learning and insights from the pilot initiative. The online launch of the report would involve conversation with those who organised a series of intergenerational dialogues in both countries, share a short video relaying messages from those who participated, and introduce HelpAge and Restless Development’s intergenerational guide that was used to inform this initiative.

You can become a part of this event:

Interested to learn more about uniting generations for Climate Action? Visit the webpage here.

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Learning from intergenerational dialogue

by Sangita Maharjan Reading time: 5 min