Words By Nicole Lutze
A teenager who’s more interested in social justice than social media is a rare and great thing, but having the confidence and backing to turn that interest into real and positive change is something else altogether.
Fifteen-year-old Maia Raymond isn’t your average teenager. As the eldest child of permaculture educator Morag Gamble and a resident of Crystal Waters ecovillage, Maia has been gifted with firsthand permaculture experience most adults spend decades trying to obtain. With a Permaculture Design Course completed at the age of 12, and a network of well-connected contacts, Maia is making the most of her experience to forge her own world-changing path. And it begins with the youth.
‘Permaculture offers nature play for kids and design courses for adults, but people my age want to discuss these issues too,’ she starts. ‘Young people like myself found themselves coming home from climate strikes and wondering, what can we do now?’ Maia’s answer to the next steps for youth activism was to create a global movement known as Permayouth.
Maia, along with several other teenagers in Australia as well as one in Zanzibar, co-founded Permayouth in 2019. Since then, Maia has coordinated the organisation.
‘Our goal is to spread permaculture education to as many youth and vulnerable communities as possible,’ she says. Permaculture-inspired ‘practivism’ – practical everyday activism – is a key component to Permayouth’s collective wisdom, but participants also enjoy sharing their creative outlets like music, poetry and photography. Crucially, Permayouth has also become a source of hope to those who most need it.
Through her mother’s work, Maia had witnessed firsthand how permaculture can help vulnerable and marginalised communities, like those living in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. There, refugees have created a food forest in a region usually resembling a desert, enabling food sovereignty. But Maia knew permaculture provided nourishment beyond nutrition and was thrilled when the first Permayouth hub was established within a refugee camp.
‘Life in refugee camps is hard, and there’s a very high suicide rate,’ says Maia. ‘Doing something to help refugees feel at home is important because they don’t know when they might ever go back. And creating gardens seems to be a good way to connect with the place you’re in, while also creating something you can eat. Gardens improve health and also raise morale, which is a great win-win.’
As well as having a presence within five refugee camps in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, Permayouth also has hubs in the Philippines, Zanzibar, America and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian communities.
‘Through my mum’s network, we have connected with people across the world,’ Maia explains. ‘I never anticipated we would be directly influencing so many youths in such a short time.’
Gather And Grow
Last year’s lockdowns provided further opportunity for the Permayouth movement, with Maia using the time at home to launch Permayouth festivals. The digital youth festivals have so far featured an impressive guest line-up, including David Holmgren, Brenna Quinlan, Costa Georgiadis and a cast of other well-known permaculture leaders. Festival programs typically include a Q&A with a permaculture elder, music created by Permayouth ambassadors, slam poetry, film and a garden tour. The monthly events are free, though donations are encouraged, and all money raised by the festivals goes directly to support Permayouth education programs running in refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda.
Managing the Permayouth movement and organising and marketing festivals add an impressive array of skills to Maia’s already outstanding CV. The teenager has also studied with Nora Bateson, the daughter of Gregory Bateson who was a well-known British anthropologist, social scientist and systems-thinker. After completing her studies with Nora, Maia became the youngest-ever person to host Nora’s Warm Data Labs. She’s also studied with Fritjof Capra, completing his Capra course twice and fulfilling a mentorship role supporting other youths coming through his program.
Prior to her current self-directed homeschooling stint, Maia’s maturity and environmental passion earned her a full scholarship at South East Queensland’s Matthew Flinders Anglican College. During her time as a student there, the then 12-year-old Maia was nominated to represent her school at a Climate Change Conference in Scotland and an associated youth forum. She was the youngest participant at both events.
Since then, Maia and her colleagues’ continued hard work has earned the Permayouth movement recognition with ethical cosmetics brand Lush — the founder of the annual Lush Spring Prize. Now in its fifth year, the Lush Spring Prize celebrates global projects providing environmental and social regeneration. Permayouth has been nominated in the category of Influence. The Influence Award goes to organisations campaigning or lobbying to influence policy, regulation or public opinion in support of regeneration. Influence category winners receive £25,000 ($46,220) towards their projects and the prize winners will be announced in October.
Should Permayouth win the prize, it seems likely Maia’s focus and direction will take bold steps forward, but for the moment, she is keeping herself busy pursuing her passions and interests. In her spare time, Maia plays the clarinet with the Queensland Youth Orchestra and learns piano and bass guitar. She also enjoys sailing and bike riding. She is currently studying the Permaculture Educators Program as part of her homeschooling while also helping her mother set up successful kitchen gardens and eco-villages.
Despite receiving significant accolades and opportunities, Maia remains refreshingly humble and level-headed, in part because of her experiences. The overseas travel opportunities and connections with vulnerable communities help Maia to maintain perspective. When completing her Permaculture Design Course in Uganda, Maia described the experience as ‘eye-opening’.
‘I noticed how privileged I am, not just to live in a permaculture eco-village, but to also live in Australia,’ she says. ‘It was really interesting to talk to people there and see what their lives are like … I got to see how we can all nurture the planet, in some way or another, whether it be through protesting and activism or planting a garden. The experience and the course have changed the way I see things.’
Listening to the experiences of those in refugees camps can be ‘hard to hear about,’ Maia continues, ‘but we need to hear it.’ Maia uses those experiences to fuel her work and encourage global change.
‘In today’s society, it can be difficult to talk about things that matter – compost isn’t always a great conversation starter,’ she jokes. ‘Permayouth provides a place to talk about the issues that matter most to us, like the climate crisis, Black Lives Matter and deforestation. Because permaculture is a culture, it also creates friendships, social opportunities and nurturing space for society. Permayouth is also a space for us to celebrate life, the environment and the small things we do. It’s not just about planning.
‘The best outcome (of Permayouth) is to change someone’s perspective and help them see the world in a totally different way to anything they had imagined,’ she grins. ‘And I hope it continues.’