A STORY often shared in motivational speeches is that of the little girl rescuing stranded starfish, one by one.

“The sun is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back to sea, they will die,” she tells the adult passerby who asked her what she was doing, but the adult tells the little girl the starfish are too many and the beach is too long. It was impossible for her to rescue all the starfish washed ashore.

“You can’t make a difference” is a dangerous thing to say to the young.

This story adapted from Loren Eisley’s essay “The Star Thrower” continues:

“Upon hearing the adult’s comment, the little girl picks up yet another starfish, puts it into the water, and says “I made a difference to that one.”

In the age of a climate change, the star thrower is telling us not to feel hopeless or powerless.

Turning off the lights when not in use, taking the bike to work, refusing single-use plastic, buying local and sustainable products, eating vegan – will these actions done by a few people matter?

Why not engage governments or corporations to make the major changes necessary to reverse climate change?

Yes, let’s go after the big guys, battle our ecological crises large-scale through policy, education, leadership and social justice.

While we’re at it, let’s account for the “little things” done for a more sustainable planet, and find out these actions sum up and make a huge difference.

And it’s not just the measurable outcomes we are looking at, it is the entire process of developing generational, cultural habits necessary for our species to live sustainably and in harmony with our habitat.

In the previous edition of this column, I featured two winners of “Kabataan, Bayani ng Kalikasan” (Youth, Heroes of Nature) and now let’s get to know two more: Ma. Myles Aina Francisco and Jophet Cam, who placed first and third, respectively, in the search for young heroes of nature at the Department of Education (DepEd)’s Regional YES-O Camp held on March 1 to 3 in Victorias City National High School.

Aina is the YES-O president of the Regional Science High School for Western Visayas.

She’s an eloquent leader who is passionate about engaging younger children in environmental issues through her “Awareness Project”.

Coming from the province where Boracay Island is located, what interested me is her view on ecotourism.

It was quite refreshing to know that Aina and her school promotes tourism that is dependent on healthy ecosystems.

I was enthusiastic to feel Aina’s pride for the Katunggan it Ibajay Ecopark, Hurom-Hurom Cold Springs, Nabas Windfarm, Nabaoy River, Culdora House of Piña, the places that YES-O projects supported.

If more young people nurture this sense of pride for their natural heritage, we have a future generation with a sustainable mindset.

Jophet is also a YES-O president, and an active young leader with Child Incorporated working with ChildFund Philippines.

Not only does he bring pride to Roxas City School for Philippine Craftsmen where he is a brilliant student, but also to his community.

I was impressed by Jophet’s scientific studies on magnetic vortex filtering devices to improve water quality, especially the Panay River.

What is more impressing is his deep knowledge beyond the science, that keeping the river healthy needs a community that is fully aware and grateful of the river’s role in their life.

Both Aina and Jophet represent the fruits of YES-O, blossoming flowers and spreading roots in environmental conservation.

I vividly remember my own roots as I met the candidates for Bayani ng Kalikasan in Victorias City, home of my alma mater, Negros Occidental National Science High School.

As I was constantly being inspired by each one of them, I looked back to the history of Youth for the Environment in Schools (YES) Organization.

Fifteen years ago, I was part of our school’s delegation to the 2003 Youth for the Environment Summer (YES) Camp in Baguio.

I was 15 then and I was a germinating seed in the conservation movement.

In that same camp, I was awarded for my Environmental Essay entitled “Romancing the sea,” which Philippine Daily Inquirer published in its Youngblood column.

Never have I fully realized back then how those days were crucial premonition of what I will be doing later in life.

When I was interviewing the young leaders in the 2018 Regional YES-O Camp in Victorias, I was extremely excited for them, knowing that they could also have a path to careers, opportunities and life, revolving around a sustainable Earth.

Our faith in the Philippine educational system is constantly tested with its struggles and limitations especially in environmental education, but during this experience my gratitude to DepEd was overflowing.

YES-O is nurturing young people to care and lead.

After the 2003 YES Camp, DepEd issued D.O. 72, establishing the Youth for the Environment in Schools (Yes) Organization and institutionalizing the initial resolutions passed by all of us in Baguio.

DepEd made YES-O the official co-curricular environment and ecology club for all public schools in the Philippines, to bring awareness to the state of Philippine environment and ecology.

Sometimes I forget the story of that little girl rescuing the starfish – the star thrower – and have doubts whether our numerous cleanup drives, tree-planting trips, environmental essay writing contests, and YES-O camps, matter after all.

I am wrong to doubt. They matter. There is hope. We can and we will make a difference.

And further on in Eiseley’s essay he wrote: “I understand,” I said. “Call me another thrower.”

Only then I allowed myself to think, he is not alone any longer. After us, there will be others. Perhaps far outward on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly seized and flung.

For a moment, we cast on an infinite beach together beside an unknown hurler of suns. We had lost our way, I thought, but we had kept, some of us, the memory of the perfect circle of compassion from life to death and back to life again.