I selected Carter and Olivia Ries of the Atlanta, Georgia-based non-profit One More Generation to be my second choice to profile for my series on young crusaders for National Geographic’s News Watch. I caught up with the brother and sister team of environmental conservationists just before they embark on a trip to South Africa to help save rhinos.
Carter and Olivia hail from Atlanta GA where they attend the Rising Star Montessori Academy. They are both the founders of a nonprofit organization called One More Generation (OMG), which they started back in 2009 in an effort to clean up our environment and help save endangered species for at least One More Generation… and beyond.
OMG was initially started to teach more kids around the world that we need to care for endangered species. Shortly after starting their company, the BP Gulf oil spill happened and the two set out to try and help. They spent four months collecting badly needed animal rescue supplies and then on Olivia’s eighth birthday, the family drove 11.5 hours down to the region and spent five days delivering their supplies and helping out. It was there that they learned first hand that plastic pollution was an even bigger threat to the animals than all the oil spilt globally each year.
Upon their return, the two set out to educate themselves on the issue of plastic pollution and six months later they launched their week-long Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum, which is now available to schools across the country. The goal of the curriculum is to educate and empower the students so they could teach their parents concerning the issue and start applying what they learned in their homes and throughout the community.
Jordan: Certainly rhinos have taken quite a hit on the horn lately (No pun intended). Last year, a record number of poached animals were recorded on the African continent, as I understand. Can you guys elaborate on this and discuss the trend this year?
Olivia: The main reason rhinos are being poached at such increased rates is greed and money. The more rhinos we lose, the more valuable their horns become. My dad calls it “Supply and Demand.” I am not sure what all that means. The bottom line is that some countries still believe that rhino horns can make you feel younger or healthier but the truth is that horns are made of the same stuff as your hair and fingernails. Who wants to eat that?
Carter: I agree with Olivia, greed is what is driving the demand together with a decreasing inventory which is driving the increase in value. The sad part is that it has been scientifically proven that rhino horns have no medicinal value at all. To prove our point, my sister and I collected a bunch of hair, fingernails and toenails from local salons and sent a giant box of it to the Chinese embassy with a note suggesting they put that in their soup instead of killing rhinos. They never wrote us back 😉
Jordan: I hear you are planning a trip to South Africa in the near future. Can you tell me about it?
Olivia: Yes, we depart on Oct 25th in an effort to try and meet with South African President Jacob Zuma. We have been collecting letters from kids all around the world asking President Zuma to please get serious about saving the species before it is too late. Our goal was to collect around 1,000 letters and then bring them to President Zuma to show him that the whole world is begging him to save rhinos from certain extinction. So far, our campaign has collected almost 10,000 letters from literally around the world from kids and adults who care about saving rhinos for at least One More Generation… and beyond.
Carter: We are also planning to visit numerous schools in South Africa and we have even been invited to meet with the folks at the US Embassy and to present to all the students at the American International School in Johannesburg. We are also being accompanied by a film crew during the entire trip who will be producing a documentary on our efforts and to showcase all the heroic efforts from many of the organizations and people who are fighting to save the species.
Jordan: You have already worked with wildlife in need of rescue. For example, you helped with animal recovery during the aftermath of the Gulf Oil spill. With so many species on the brink of extinction how did you decide to help African rhinos?
Olivia: My brother and I had been adopting Cheetah’s from South Africa for years and in late 2011 we made a trip to South Africa to award a big check to the founder of the Cheetah rescue center we had been working with. While in South Africa, we learned first hand about the serious crises of rhino poaching and that unless everyone gets involved, rhinos will become extinct in out life-time.
Carter: We quickly partnered with a local NGO in South Africa called Rhino SA (http://www.rhinosa.co.za/) and developed our Community Rhino Presentation, which was designed to educate kids and communities around the world about the issue of rhino poaching so more people would get involved. Rhino SA has been focusing on educating the youths of South Africa about the need to preserve their heritage and OMG has been focusing on spreading the word throughout America and even globally. Our campaign has received letters from all over the world. It really makes us feel great to know so many people cared enough to write us. We only hope the President of South Africa can find some time to meet with us so we can share the voices of the youth of the world with him and all South Africans.
Jordan: I just got back from India. Are you familiar with the plight of Asian rhinos as well as African rhinos?
Olivia: Yes, we actually feature all five remaining species of rhinos in our presentations in an effort to educate everyone that all rhinos need our help and that the Javan rhino is already considered extinct since their numbers are too low to save the species.
Carter: In the case of the Asian rhinos, they not only face the treat of being poached for their horn but they also face severe issues with regard to habitat loss. The Sumatran rhino is loosing their natural habitat (just like so many other species in the region) to the deforestation caused by the demand for palm oil.
Jordan: I was so impressed with OMG that I’d love to know how I could help out, although part of me thinks that you should be advising me. What is the most rewarding part about being environmentalists?
Olivia: As we travel around the country and even globally, we are constantly asked how others can help out and make a difference. We always tell them that the easiest way to help endangered species is through animal adoptions. We tell everyone that the first step is to educate yourself on the various issues causing so many species to be pushed to the bring of extinction and then to realize that we all need to get involved. Animal adoptions help those organizations who are working so hard to save the species by supporting their efforts financially. As for your question regarding what is most rewarding part of what we do, I would have to say that our jobs allows us to not only learn about the various issues but it also allows us to teach others so they too can realize that collectively we can make a difference. I also love the fact that we get to travel all around the world and meet so many new people who are also looking for ways to help.
Carter: If anyone would like to get involved in our work and help out, we encourage them to consider donating to our organization so we can continue to do what we set out to do. Donating is simple, they merely need to visit our website and decide at what level they would like to help (http://onemoregeneration.org/products-page/). They can also decide to bring one of our community educational outreach programs to their school or community to help educate more people of the issue.
As for what is most rewarding to me, I would have to say it is when we are finished with a speaking engagement or lecture somewhere and we have so many people come up to us and say “I had no idea that I too can make a difference regardless of my age“. That is probably our number one message, “Anybody can make a difference… if we can, you can too“. I also love traveling and inspiring others to stand up and help, regardless what they are passionate about.
Jordan: What are some of the local projects that you work on?
Olivia: My brother and I love to help out locally. We frequently participate in community clean-up events and we also partner with other organizations and help them with their work. We have helped out at protests in front of aquariums which keep dolphins and other mammals in captivity, we have also spoke at local hearings where we demanded local power companies start using more renewable energy sources as wind and solar. We even protested the use of bullhooks at circuses, which still feature animals in their shows.
Carter: My sister and I also help out with local events where we can help feed the homeless and we also try to help delivering meals whenever we can find time. One of our biggest local projects has to do with fighting the issue of plastic pollution. As we helped out in the Gulf during the BP oil spill, we learned first hand that plastic pollution is an even bigger threat to animals and humans than all the oil from oil spills globally. When we returned we helped create a weeklong Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum, which is now available to schools all across the county. Our program is designed to educate kids about the issues so they can help their families start being the solution to the issue of plastic pollution.
Jordan: Do you know what you want to do when you get done with school?
Olivia: I would like to be a ‘large animal’ veterinarian and to someday own the worlds largest animal sanctuary.
Carter: I would like to be an inventor and to invent things that Olivia could use at the sanctuary which
Jordan: Do you have any plans for new projects with endangered species.
Olivia: Yes, our next big project is going to be helping to save orangutans and Asian elephants. We have already reached out to the worlds foremost expert on orangutans (Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas) and she has agreed to work with us on the campaign. Dr. Galdikas is the founder of Orangutan Foundation International (http://www.orangutan.org/) and she is planning on visiting us here in Atlanta in January so we can get the campaign started. She has also agreed to be one of our ‘Expert Board Members’. We are so excited.
Carter: We chose orangutans because they are in dire need of help. We want to educate everyone about what is happening to them and how our everyday purchases here in the states are helping to drive them to the brink of extinction. Palm oil is unfortunately used is so many products that each of us buy daily and most people don’t even know it.Most people don’t even know about the Palm Oil industry and how they are virtually cutting down the last remaining natural habitat for orangutans. It is estimated that the palm oil industry is cutting down or burning up to 300 football fields worth of their habitat everyday. Unless we all get involved and start educating ourselves on the issue, Orangutans (like the rhinos) will literally become extinct in our lifetime.
We even use a Palm Oil app (http://palmoilapp.com/) when we shop which was created by the El Paso Zoo. The app allows us to scan the UPC code on products in the grocery store and it helps identify whether the product contains palm oil or not. If everyone would start using this app, more people could start avoiding products with palm oil and send a clear message to the manufacturers that we will not tolerate the extinction of a species because of their ignorance to the issue or greed.
Jordan: What would you tell other young people who might want to become environmental crusaders like yourselves?
Olivia: Our number one message to everyone is “Anybody can make a difference… if we can, you can too“. We also want everyone know that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything you set out to do.
Carter: We also want everyone to realize that each one of us has a responsibility to get involved with something that will help make our world a better place for us all. It does not matter what your passion is, each one of us needs to just pick a topic and get involved. We can all help make this world a better place but it will take all of us to do it.
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