Nature Canada

Spotlight on Young Nature Leaders: Dalal Hanna

Dalal Hanna is one of five winners of Nature Canada’s $1,000 Young Nature Leader grants. She, alongside co-founders Andrea Reid and Mikayla Wujec started their not-for-profit Riparia to engage youth with freshwater science.

Montreal native Dalal Hanna is one of five well-deserving winners of Nature Canada’s $1,000 Young Nature Leader grants. She, alongside co-founders Andrea Reid and Mikayla Wujec was inspired to start the not-for-profit Riparia after she was invited to join her friend, who owns a rafting company, on an expedition. It was during this time that she realized she “hadn’t previously thought about bringing science to people in that way before” or rather, “hadn’t thought about bringing people IN to science in that way.”

“Being out on rivers and lakes is probably the best classroom that exists to help us connect with, better understand, and to learn about freshwater.”

Dalal returned home from the expedition with a new dream in the back of her mind, she started thinking “This is something I want to do more of, how can I do more of this?” She later applied to a National Geographic leadership program, and during the process, one of the application questions stuck with her: “What is your next big project?” This question helped her to realize that she wanted to do more scientific expeditions with youth as a means for sharing the educational experiences with them.

“To teach science about the environment,
in the environment.”

After the leadership program, she reached out to her colleagues Andrea and Mikayla to pitch the idea of Riparia to them. They agreed it was a wonderful thing to do together, to create educational science programs that are accessible to everyone.

Riparia is an organization that aims to connect youth with science and water by providing free freshwater science expeditions and opportunities for youth to engage with.

With support from Nature Canada, the National Geographic Society, and the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, on August 1st, Riparia held its inaugural expedition in the Poisson Blanc Regional Park for 10 young women aged 14 to 16. Youth in this age range are at a crossroads in their education where they are deciding whether or not to take extra science credits, and Riparia aims to engage them with different forms of science than they would typically learn in school (while complimenting the existing science curriculum in Ontario).

“Our goal is not to turn all the youth who participate into scientists, but rather to expose them to science and give them an opportunity to connect with it, so that they can move through the rest of their lives having a better idea of what science is and how it contributes to society.”

Riparia had two key recruitment partners for its August 1st expedition: Native Montreal and the Ottawa-Carleton District Schoolboard (OCDSB), and worked with them over the past year to identify students who would be a good fit for the trip.

When asked how Poisson Blanc Regional Park was selected as the location for the first expedition, Dalal stated that when it came up as an option, she vouched for it immediately, given that she spent much of her childhood there and is very familiar with it. It is also very close to the key urban centres that Riparia is working with.

“A big part of our program is about helping people to better understand that freshwater ecosystems are everywhere, even if we feel removed from them, they’re all around us.” Dalal says that there is far more attention given to oceans than to freshwater ecosystems, but that we should realize that all water is connected around the world, all of it is important.

Freshwater ecosystems are among the most threatened in the world, according to a recent IPBES* report, their vertebrate populations having declined most heavily since the 1970’s compared to other ecosystems.

“I grew up in Canada, and Canada is a country of freshwater. We’ve got one of the biggest reserves of freshwater in the world and it’s imperative that we take care of what we have.”

 Riparia has applied for official charitable status and is looking forward to its official launch around February 2020, with further updates being posted here.

Nature Canada’s Women for Nature is incredibly proud to support this incredible organization, and wishes Riparia all the best as it grows and thrives.

To read about our other bursary winners, click here

*Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 

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