Ever since I was given this amazing opportunity to share stories about amazing people here on the Nat Geo Education blog, I have been blessed with meeting some incredible people who are all working hard to change the world for the better. It doesn’t matter how large the task or how hard they have to work, the people in my articles are all ready to do whatever it takes to be the change that we all want to see. This week is no different.
This week I am honored to introduce you to the Krafts, an extraordinary family who have taken it upon themselves to learn first-hand about the issue of climate change, and to do it in a way that would bring the family even closer together.
Here is the story from Lauri Kraft:
During the 2013-2014 school year, we made the world our classroom—visiting 17 countries on six continents. Our daughter Jamie was 8; our son Jason was 6 (they’re now 11 and 9).
They were young, but, happily, they did everything we did: a rainy night hike to see bugs and snakes in Costa Rica; camping for seven weeks in South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia; snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos; and bundling up for a Zodiac boat trip to see glaciers up-close in Svalbard, Norway.
Yes, we studied things like math—and, wherever we went, we learned about environmental issues. We also shared our experiences with The Wilderness Classroom, a not-for-profit site followed by 85,000 schoolchildren, which brings environmental education to classrooms.
So many people were kind enough to share their time with us—here are some memorable examples:
- In Costa Rica, we visited Kids Saving the Rainforest, founded by two nine-year-old girls, which builds monkey bridges to save titi monkeys.
- In Peru, we stayed in a camp of scientists and helped build a bio-garden with CREES, which studies the importance of the rain forest.
- In Vietnam, we saw how Education for Nature Vietnam works to stop illegal trade for products from endangered animals, such as rhinos. And, in Namibia, we saw wild rhinos, and how Save the Rhino Trust works with local people to protect them.
- In the Galapagos, we learned how World Wildlife Fund helps protect fragile habitat from human-caused threats such as water pollution, waste, and invasive species.
- In Cambodia, we stayed with a family on the Mekong River, where CRDT helps lift communities out of poverty and simultaneously protect endangered river dolphins.
One issue that came up a lot was climate change. When Jason learned about the global impact of meat production, he challenged us to become vegetarian for a week. We did it for a month, in India (eating some of the best vegetarian food in the world!)—and two years later, our diet’s still mostly vegetarian.
We saw kids making a difference in so many ways; Jason’s challenge is one small example. Schoolchildren from Sweden raised money to buy land in Costa Rica (creating the Children’s Eternal Rainforest). Jamie and Jason were so inspired by their story that they asked kids at their elementary school to do a school-wide fundraiser to help continue the children’s mission. And Larry (Jamie and Jason’s dad) now works for an organization that was founded by a 12-year-old: iMatter, which empowers youth to fight climate change.
It’s a little early to know how our trip might affect Jamie and Jason’s future choices—but without question, it was a formative experience that will continue to impact them in years to come.
After Skyping with the Kraft family and reading their story, I decided to ask them a few questions of my own.
Q: My first question is for both Jamie and Jason. Tell me what you first thought when your parents told you that you were going on this trip around the world?
Jason: I felt extremely surprised—and excited! Jamie: I’m pretty sure I screamed. But I didn’t want to leave my friends for so long.
Jamie: I’m pretty sure I screamed. But I didn’t want to leave my friends for so long.
Lauri: I remember that Jamie, especially, kept trying to negotiate us down—”How about six months?” She was concerned about how it would be to leave friends for so long.
Jamie: But then we started making a list of where we wanted to go. I was happy about the trip then.
Jason: We both wanted to go to Antarctica, the Galapagos, India and Egypt, but we couldn’t go everywhere.
Lauri: We treated it like a Christmas list—we made a list of all the places we wanted to go… but of course, you don’t get everything on your Christmas list. We eliminated some places because of safety concerns, and places that would be tougher for very young children (like Antarctica).
Q: My next question is for Jason. I read that it was you who convinced your family to go without eating meat for a week. I too don’t eat meat for the same reasons. How do your peers react when you try to get them to stop eating meat in an effort to reduce the effects of climate change?
Jason: When I tell other kids I don’t eat meat, they’re really surprised that I’m a vegetarian. I don’t always explain it to kids, but when I explain it to grown-ups, I explain that first, I didn’t like meat—and I like animals, so I didn’t like the idea of eating them. Then I learned about climate change. I was already a vegetarian, but after that, I was definite about it.
Q: This next question is for Mrs. Kraft. What is the number one message that you have for other moms who are struggling with the whole climate change issue? What advice do you have for them that might get more people looking at the issue long-term?
Lauri: Wow. It’s an issue a lot of people struggle with, including parents. I think with such a big issue, people sometimes throw up their hands—it’s hard to believe you can make an impact. However, I think everyone should feel empowered to take action—both in our personal lives, and in the voting booth. As far as personal choices, some things can cost a bit more—signing up for renewable energy from your energy provider, or buying carbon offsets for home energy use, or travel. But many choices we make actually save money: drinking tap water rather than bottled, driving less, smart home energy use (using less heat and a/c, using energy-saving appliances/light bulbs), downsizing trash service and recycling/composting more , purchasing some reused things rather than buying everything new, generally buying less “stuff.” (Do we really need that kitchen gadget/T-shirt/toy, etc.?)
Traveling for a year was a huge realization for us, as far as how little we really need. It may seem counter-intuitive, but our family’s generally happier with less (there’s less to clean, organize and maintain, and we take more enjoyment from the things we do have). As far as not eating meat—like Jason—if everyone in the U.S. cut out meat and cheese one day a week, it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road… or not driving 91 billion miles (Source: Environmental Working Group). However, we can’t tackle climate change through personal choices alone. There are big-picture problems it’s tough for us to impact—changing our energy infrastructure, or making economic adjustments to reflect the true price of carbon emissions. To tackle these problems, it’s important to think about them when we vote—because it’s the policy makers we elect that can make these systemic changes.
Q: I have one more question for Jamie. What part of the trip meant the most to you and why?
Jamie: The whole trip meant a lot to me, but here are some special experiences:
- We stayed with a Costa Rican family, while we were in language school, and I had a lot of trouble leaving because they were so nice.
- India meant a lot to me, because it was a place I had really wanted to go. The people there were so kind, and they treated Jason and me really well.
- I really loved the Galapagos—we got to see so many awesome animals there. I didn’t know how to snorkel, and I learned there—and my favorite experience there was snorkeling about a foot away from a sea lion.
- I absolutely loved Machu Picchu, and the camp where we stayed with scientists in Manu National Park, also in Peru. The scientists explained their experiments to us, and we got to go with them wherever they went. We slept in an open-air room with the rain forest right outside—there were monkeys in the trees right next to our room.
- We also did a homestay in Cambodia, which was on an island in the Mekong River. Even though the children spoke a different language, we became good friends. They even did my hair, loaned me a dress, and invited us to a local wedding. Thinking back, a lot of the special experiences I had were with people we met. I also have lots of good memories about the many animals that we got to see in the wild, and some that we got to meet up close.
Q: Finally, this question is for Mr. Kraft. Can you tell me how your experience during the trip has better prepared you for the work you now do for iMatter?
Larry: I’m now the Executive Director—really, Chief Mentor—of iMatter, a youth-driven organization founded in 2007. iMatter’s mission is to be a microphone for passionate youth on climate change. iMatter’s current focus is to help high school and middle school youth hold their cities accountable to do their part in ending the crisis. On our trip, I witnessed many examples of what a difference youth can make. In Costa Rica, as we mentioned earlier, we saw how kids were responsible for creating the country’s largest rain forest preserve, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
We also saw how two 9-year-old girls started Kids Saving the Rainforest, helping spur a movement that rescued a species of titi monkey from the brink of extinction. And, I had moments with our own children on the trip that changed me profoundly. We visited a museum exhibit in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, that detailed the impact animal farming has on climate change. This exhibit really solidified Jason’s choice to be a vegetarian, at the age of six. A day or two later was when he challenged us to give up meat for a week—for the Earth. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt at that moment. Kids can reach adults in a profoundly personal and emotional way. You just don’t say no to a request like Jason’s (as we’ve written, we ended up going vegetarian for a month, and since have dramatically reduced our meat consumption).
Later in our trip, Jamie, who was then nine, asked if we could do something about climate change. When I answered yes, she said, “Well, Daddy, let’s just stop it.” Her simple statement hit me like a thunderbolt. As adults, we can make things so complex, and can easily argue why what she said is naive. But is it? Tackling this challenge is really about finding the will to do it.
Wow… as you can see, the Kraft family sincerely cares about what is happening to our planet and how that is affecting people around the world. Their year-long trip around the world is something that will not only benefit them as a family, but will undoubtedly afford them the insight needed to be able to stand up and make a difference for future generations.
Make sure you keep an eye out for what’s next for the Kraft family, I am sure they will be an integral part of shaping the way we address the whole climate change issue.
Happy Summer everyone 😉
Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Make sure to check out their TEDxYouth presentation along with their website at OneMoreGeneration.org and also ‘LIKE’ their FaceBook page as well 😉