For most, the start of the pandemic was frightening, unpredictable and stressful.
But for a group of teenage boys who came through an environmental resilience camp in Cantley, the pandemic and the restrictions that came with it were challenges they were prepared to take on.
Not only prepared but empowered.
“That was what we saw in that program – that it’s not the end of the world,” said Eva Cohen, president and founder of Civil Protection Youth Canada (CPYC) – an environmental resilience camp in Cantley that teaches kids and adults skills needed to survive in a crisis.
“Because at the beginning [of the pandemic] for the kids, it was really scary to see how their lives, as they knew it, got shut down. The parents were worried, and it wasn’t easy for them. If we are prepared, we don’t have to be scared,” she said.
That’s the whole idea behind Cohen’s environmental resilience organization, which is to train a new generation to be better prepared for disasters and catastrophes – everything from minor power outages and how to manage and prevent flooding to bigger-picture issues like building a stable communication network when such emergencies arise as another pandemic.
Cohen said her organization used the pandemic as a training scenario for her first group of teenagers, and the result was proof that her idea to build a better, local response to emergencies was greatly needed.
“We did offer a program, mostly for my son’s friends, but it was really to see if we can make this work,” she said. Cohen said what came out of that first 2019 session was a group of confident teens who knew how to support one another during one of the most challenging times of their lives. Shortly after that first session, strict government restrictions came down, and Cohen could no longer host kids at her Cantley farm.
But now, years later, the CPYC is in full swing. More than 400 youth have moved through the programs offered, learning everything from how to tie a basic knot, endure a power outage safely, prepare for a disaster, and, perhaps most importantly, what to do amid an environmental disaster.
The latter is the inspiration behind the organization, as Cohen, who has been working on this project for the past 15 years, said she sees how ill-prepared Canadians are for disasters. She pointed to 2022 that saw both the spring derecho storm and the winter ice storm, which hammered the region and left thousands without power for weeks. Cohen said she wants more Canadians to become better equipped to respond to these crises.
“We need a more proactive approach,” said Cohen. “Because right now, what we do is, something happens, and then we kind of wait and see who’s going to respond, and who’s going to deal with it. And then we’re surprised when things take long.”
And Cantley is the perfect place for an organization dedicated to environmental stewardship. The CPYC sprawls across 113 acres of pristine, untouched original farmland from the 1800s. The land features wild pastures, rolling hills, rocky hillsides and pristine wetlands.
The farm was recently under threat, as Cantley’s municipal council nearly expropriated the land to make way for a municipal garage and community centre expansion. But more than 500 residents signed a petition and fought against the plan and won – Cantley backed down from taking the land earlier this year. Mayor David Gomes told the Low Down that the municipality was no longer looking to expropriate the farm but used the words “for the time being,” which Cohen and the farm’s owner, John Pomeroy, said left them in constant fear of losing the land. Both argue that protecting the “beautiful nature” is far more critical than building a new garage. Cohen said her hope is that more and more people – both youth and adults as old as 79 – will take the free training courses and become empowered to face disasters and take the lead when emergencies arise. Teaching a younger generation to be better prepared to confront climate change and every problem that comes with it will close the “gap” that Cohen said exists between emergency responders and average citizens.
“We had this massive power outage after the big derecho storm, but we are not any better prepared now than we were then,” she said. “Because we don’t really know what to do in disaster situations.”
Those who take the free training courses can then become volunteers of the CPYC and help train more youth and adults to be better equipped to deal with the disasters that scientists predict will undoubtedly come.
Visit the CPYC online for more information or to get involved.