A young Filipino conservation advocate is one of the recipients of this year’s World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International President’s Youth Award in recognition of his outstanding achievements, dedication, and commitment to the natural environment. 

Jose Gabriel “Gab” Mejia is the 24-year old co-founder of Youth Engaged in Wetlands – a youth network across 30 countries advocating for the conservation and protection of wetlands around the world – as well as a conservation photographer for National Geographic Society, and an environmental writer and columnist at the Manila Times. He is the first Filipino youth to receive the prestigious WWF International award.

“As we collectively face the pressing issues and injustices that continue to prevail against nature, the environment, and society— all I dream is for a present and future where all lives can coexist together in harmony. A just and sustainable world where wildlife, indigenous people, underserved communities, disempowered minorities, and the youth can all thrive in the only home we call our planet,” said Mejia

A passionate and positive role model from the Philippines, Mejia is a true voice and leader for his generation spending his time and talents covering stories on nature, wildlife, the climate crisis, and indigenous people. In 2019, he was awarded a filmmaking fellowship by the Jackson Wild Media Lab and was featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2021: The Arts. Using his photography, storytelling, and art skills, he influences and inspires others to act for nature and is a shining example of positive action for all.

“We are living today in an unprecedented and crucial time, where hope, action, and justice are needed now more than ever. Let this award be an inspiration to every single Filipino and citizen of our planet, young or old, to continue fighting the good fight. For I realize that the most difficult thing to achieve in this world is not happiness, is not success, is not fame nor glory— it is justice, and this is all that we deserve,” Mejia added. 

Mejia is also an active member of the WWF-Philippines’ (WWF-PH) National Youth Council (NYC). Established in 2015, the WWF-PH NYC promotes engagement of Filipino youths in the mission of WWF by providing youth leaders in environment a platform to launch projects and increase the reach of the environmental movement.

WWF-PH Executive Director Katherine Custodio expressed her appreciation for Mejia’s remarkable achievement and for being an inspiration for the Filipino youth.

“Our work in addressing issues of environment is intergenerational. As the ones who will inherit our planet, our youth are our most important stakeholders. Their voices and ideas need to be heard and they need to be active participants in finding and implementing solutions. I am so grateful and hopeful that we have leaders in our National Youth Council who at such a young age are already making a big difference for the future of the planet.  I would like to commend Gab, together with the rest of the WWF-PH NYC, for devoting time and their considerable talents in the service of our cause and country. Gab’s award is a great honor and is truly well-deserved.” Custodio said.

Awarded alongside Mejia is Mutetelenu Kalama, a 29-year old activist who started her journey ten years ago as a Climate Change Child Ambassador for the United Nations Zambia where she initiated environmental activities that saw over 1,000 children trained to become climate change ambassadors in their schools and communities. She has gone on to co-found the Agents of Change Foundation – where she currently serves as executive director – a local NGO active in using radio across Zambia as a tool for sparking conversations and raising awareness on social and environmental issues. 

“The past year has shown us how important our relationship with nature is and how its neglect can cause irreversible damage. Seeing Mutetelenu and Gab’s passion and outstanding leadership skills towards solving some of our most pressing planetary problems gives me hope that young people have a unique opportunity to help solve both the climate emergency and nature crisis. The next generation will determine the future of our planet and I hope they inspire the change we need to see for people, nature, and climate,” said Pavan Sukhdev, President, WWF International.

Established in 2012, the WWF International President’s Youth Award is the global conservation organization’s top accolade recognizing exceptional leadership in young conservationists from around the world which acknowledges and encourages outstanding achievements of young people under the age of 30 who are making significant contributions to nature conservation. Nominations are invited annually via WWF offices around the world.