At 17 years old, Victoria Ritchie has already made connections at the United Nations.
She had the opportunity through the Independent Order of the Oddfellows and Rebekahs to be part of the UN Pilgrimage program.
After winning regional speech contests, Ritchie embarked on an all-inclusive pilgrimage which included stops in Ottawa, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Ritchie and her fellow speakers received the topic late on a Sunday night after arriving in New York, with two days to write and prepare while taking in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.
The speech topic was taking two of the sustainable development goals established by the UN in September 2015 and exploring short and long-term solutions that youth can help achieve.
Ritchie picked climate action and responsible consumption production.
“I really care about the environment and I think our generation, my generation, has to focus a lot on that. It’s proven that we are the last generation that has the ability to reverse climate change, yet we aren’t showing much initiative to do so. I think just the idea of inspiring my peers that were there as well as speaking out about the topics that other people overlook was really important,” Ritchie said.
She added the speech was a inspirational in tone, inciting her generation as the last one with the ability to make an impact and exploring solutions like generating interest in youth for entering the green energy field and making it more accessible and inexpensive to live a green lifestyle.
“At the end of it I pulled it towards the whole idea that, in a couple years when our grandchildren or children ask us what we did about climate change, what do we want to be able to say to them?” Ritchie said.
Out of the 100-plus youth in the group, six were chosen for the finals.
“It was pretty crazy, I felt like quite a small-town girl when I first got there. There were kids with early acceptance to Harvard and Stanford and just had insane references and I was from Penticton, B.C., where no one knew where that was,” Ritchie laughed.
The finals for the speech contest took place in the ballroom at the Athena Manhattan Hotel in front of high up Oddfellow and Rebekahs members as well as employees and people with connections at the UN.
“It was a little intimidating, but it was super fun and worth it,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie was one of three Canadians in the finals, and she ended up winning first place, a $1,000 scholarship.
She made some valuable connections as well for internships at the UN’s environmental wing.
“It was crazy, they were like ‘yeah, so call us in nine years when you have your degree and want an internship,’” Ritchie said.
Ritchie is looking into environmental law and environmentalism for her post-secondary studies. She hopes to work with an organization that allows her to fight for the rights of the environment. She’s advocated and fundraised for many causes locally including mental health and cancer, but for her, at the root of it all is the environment in which we live.
“When it comes down to it, I feel that it would be really hard to fight for world peace or advocate for these issues if we didn’t have much of a planet left. I think it comes down to the basics — we need to care for our planet and in turn it will care for us,” Ritchie said.
When the Western News caught up with Ritchie, she had recently returned from the Amazon Rainforest with Free the Children, a worldwide charity and youth empowerment organization, where she completed humanitarian work and took in the culture — which was a highlight for her.
“You see these people who are living in extreme poverty. They don’t have much but they are still the happiest and most welcoming people,” Ritchie said.
The 17-year-old Pen High student is heading into her senior year this fall.