Catherine Constantinides says her love for community development work, raising conversations about human rights and social justice issues started from the tender age of 15. The international climate change activist and human rights defender tells us how she plans to change the continent, one day at a time.
This powerhouse social entrepreneur thrives on education, creating awareness around climate change and women empowerment. From a young age, Catherine committed to surround herself with people she could learn from, but her biggest strength is extracting value from experiences and opportunities.
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Today we get up and ask of OURSELVES what will we do, what CAN we do. How do we lead from the corners of our communities where we stand. We have a state of emergency. Our country is in crisis. We can no longer wait for something to be done, we need to start doing something! Please don’t get me wrong. Ofcourse i am angry, I’m mad and infuriated at the silence thrown our way. I’m angry that this has spiralled out of control and has taken with it precious lives, it’s tormented our very homes & communities & still we ask when will our lives matter??!! This has unravelled any strides we have made to address social cohesion in our communities at a brass roots level. There is so much work that needs to be done, WE, the individual citizens, the proud Africans of THIS continent need to stand up and lead. We need to reinstate a value system that we live by. We need to start owning the very homes we come from, the streets that we live on and the communities we are a part of. Let us use our platforms and forums, let’s begin to engage in meaningful and REAL truthful dialogue that starts to build, heal, unpack and create safe spaces where we can connect and not just be on the other end of a social media platform. I talk for myself, but I need to now stand up and engage in meaningful discourse that moves us forward. The past 72 hours have not only drained me and left me shattered and disillusioned but now we take ownership and do something!!!! Last night I took a platform given to me and used it to speak about this very thing, I doubt they will ask me to come and talk again as I never spoke about what they asked me to, but I couldn’t stand their and speak about something when my heart is so heavy with everything happening around us. Use your platforms, take charge of your agency and focus on what you can do from where you are. 🙏🏼✊🏽🇿🇦
How it all started…
When Catherine was 16, she knew her greatest calling was to be a change-maker. She set up her own company to fund the climate and environmental work she was doing. “I’d approach businesses to donate money or trees to plant through my organisation, Generation Earth,” she explains.
The community work she did as a young girl led her down the path to becoming International Miss Earth in 2003. As an international representative for South Africa, she created environmental and conservation awareness projects across the country.
An example of harnessing silver linings
Catherine was one of the top law and anthropology students in her year at Wits University, but life took a turn when her father fell ill. Due to the family’s financial situation, it was a challenge for Catherine to complete her degree.
“Not being able to complete my tertiary education gave me the opportunity to go to Cambodia, Japan, Philippines and Vietnam to harness my environmental awareness work at grassroots level,” she says. Catherine lived in a grass hut with a family who didn’t understand English; here, she gained insight into the real challenges many people face across the world.
She did community outreach based on the work she’d done in South Africa. “[And] all the real experiences allowed me to become who I am today,” she says. On her return, she focused on the environmental side of her work, where she continued to build a strong network.
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Knowing what I know, I can never stand still & let an inhumane and vile injustice continue on my watch. The Saharawi people of #WesternSahara are my people and I will not stop fighting with them. The injustice, the occupation and the endless stories of torture and draconian treatment of the Saharawi in the occupied territory can no longer continue. And to my families in the Saharawi Refugee Camps, my heart bleeds for you as you live under inhumane , harsh conditions. The world HAS forgotten you but I will do all that I can to lift the black curtain and awaken the world to what is truly going on under the Moroccan occupation and regime of horror. To my children, my promise to you remains. I Continue to #StandInTheSand next to you. #FreeWesternSahara #SaharaLibre ✊🏽✊🏽✊🏽 #African #MySaharawiPeople
Fellowships that open doors…
Upon her return, Catherine continued to build on her passion of addressing social justice issues in South Africa. In 2013, she was invited to join the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Oxford Fellowship for a year. “The platform invites young professionals who have a post-graduate degree and I got a place… [It] was a great honour and a humbling validation of the work I had taken on,” she says. Another bonus: The academic leadership programme opened doors…
In 2016, Catherine received an invite to be part of the Nelson Mandela Washington Fellowship, which at the time was under the Obama Foundation Administration. “The fellowship was in the United States and it was a learning milestone from an academic and leadership perspective,” says Catherine.
Take risks, be brave and fearless
“I was brave enough to make mistakes and learn from them,” she says. According to Catherine, everyone has the ability to challenge their mindset and open themselves up to seeing things from a different perspective. “Leadership is leading and learning from where you are every day,” she adds.
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Our country continues to face a water crisis and potentially leaving us worse off than what we could possibly imagine. The impact and ramifications that come from a crisis such as this are dire. We must continue to educate our communities from the ground up to become more water conscious, understanding that this precious resource is finite and that as a water scarce country, we find ourselves about to step back into a drought and this time it’s going to be more debilitating that the last. Much work must be done and we are working on the ground to ensure that community educate is core to building a resilient, sustainable future where there is enough for all, forever!!!! #ThinkWater #SaveWater #SDGs #SDG6 #WaterScarcity #Drought #WaterCrisis #ClimateEmergency #Climate #EnvironmentalEducation #GenerationEarth
Taking up space
Catherine admits that in 2020 men still occupy the global environmental and climate sector, with very few women holding positions of power. “[While] in the agriculture and food security space, the majority of the hard labour force on the African continent are women,” she says. While it’s taken time to be a leader in her space, Catherine is on a constant journey to be the best version of herself.
How Catherine chills out
With a busy schedule, reading is important, because it nourishes and centres her. “A few books I’d highly recommend are Becoming by Michelle Obama and Start With Why by Simon Sinek for someone wanting to go into activism, and The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle.”
When she’s craving some down time, Catherine enjoys being near the ocean or in the bush. “Time with my family and son are important to me. Times at home are ways to reconnect and be grateful for all I have,” she adds.
Connect with Catherine…
Instagram and Twitter: @ChangeAgentSA