In September 2019, Sofia Somani-Slater addressed nearly 4,500 people at Waterloo Public Square. It was the biggest climate change protest in the region’s history. In her remarks, she emphasized the impact individuals could have on the environment, outlining the benefits of switching to a primarily plant-based diet. Invoking 17-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg as inspiration, Somani-Slater called upon others to “walk the talk” of environmental stewardship.
“It was really incredible to feel like people were finally starting to listen,” recalls Somani-Slater, who is studying Environment and Business at the University of Waterloo.
Just nine months earlier, in January of the same year, in the same square, only a dozen climate change activists had turned up for another protest. Hailing from Vancouver, a hotbed for environmental activism, Somani-Slater felt disappointed by the meagre turnout. She was accustomed to much larger rallies. But she didn’t lose hope. Over the following months, she joined hands with other students, continuing to promote and attend climate rallies to draw public attention to the climate crisis.
Somani-Slater’s passion for the environment stems from a childhood spent hiking, kayaking and camping with her family in and around Vancouver. She developed a strong ethic of environmental stewardship. “The importance of taking care of the outdoors really starts with our daily habits,” she says, “and with what we’re doing when we’re not outside.”
By the age of 11, Somani-Slater was sorting waste at community events, such as the World Partnership and Ismaili Walks, and using platforms like Youth Nights at her local Jamatkhana to raise awareness of environmental issues. As co-founder of her high school’s Outdoors and Environment Club, she was instrumental in implementing a composting system at her school that became a model for other schools in the district. She has also engaged other youth since 2015 as a student leader for Catching the Spirit Youth Society, a summer camp that promotes leadership and environmental stewardship. In her daily life, Somani-Slater minimizes her environmental footprint where she can, reducing her use of single-use items, cutting out red meat and dairy, and supporting sustainable companies.
Now, Somani-Slater hopes to move forward with the excitement she felt standing in front of the crowd in September 2019. Inspired by Islam’s call to care for Allah’s creation, she is looking to the Canadian Ismaili community to do its best to get involved. She believes that, with our focus on volunteerism, “we are the perfect community to set that example for the rest of the Canadian community.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Ismaili Canada.