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by Justine Hudock
Student Community Engagement, Knovva Academy

Outside of her school’s student government (where she’s class president), the National Honor Society (which she was recently inducted to), the D-Leader club (a group of leaders in Florence’s school dedicated to helping society through fundraising), a new passion project she started with her sisters where they host a weekly webinar about current issues (which is pushing 500 listeners from around El Salvador), and holding vice presidency of the National Junior Honor Society last year, this Model G20 Climate Change Summit Deciding Committee member from beautiful El Salvador has begun an mG20 In Action club with two other former DC members. 

That would make her… Florence B., NHS, NJHS, PH (podcast host), CP (class president), SGR (student government representative), DC (member). We dare you to find another teenager with more acclaiming acronyms attached to her name. Seriously.

The endlessly humble Florence sat down with me on a beautiful sunny day in El Salvador (is there any other kind of day in that mountainous, volcano-studded, Pacific Ocean-bordered place?) to talk about what she has accomplished since the February Climate Change Summit’s final day, including beginning an mG20 in Action club that has already gathered 15 other members. 

You just have to have one conversation with this résumé-rupturing young woman to learn that, sometimes, brains and talent do go to the people with the best possible hearts. Like her favorite food, Florence is a well-constructed taco of humility, aptitude, compassion, and optimism. In a soft shell.

Give Florence a round of applause (pick one achievement; we can’t stay here all night), and lend her your eyes for our lovely conversation.

Justine Hudock: What’s your name, where are you from, what year in school are you, and what’s a silly, fun fact about you?

Florence B.: My name is Florence, I’m a 10th grader, I live in San Salvador, El Salvador — that’s a small country in Central America — and a fun fact about me is that I am learning to speak French! So far, this would be my third language: Spanish, English, French. Maybe in the future I’ll learn Portuguese because it’s very similar to Spanish, but so far I’m trying just to get my hands on the French.

JH: You co-founded this club with two other former DC members, Alexia and Cristina. What do you think are each of their best qualities?

FB: It’s been an honor working with Christina and Alexia — they are both such amazing students and I think the three of us make an amazing team because we’re each fueled by all of our different qualities. 

Alexia really brings that creative brain to the club and kind of an artistic mindset, and Christina is one of the most responsible people I know. She’s always so organized, on top of everything we need to do, on top of our to-do list. I really admire that both of them… they’re both just emblematic of the fact that there are students who really do have that drive to do better, not only for our community, but for the world.

JH: How did you become interested/involved in climate change and sustainability?

FB: I got interested in sustainability to help improve my community’s relationship with our direct environment. I come from a very small country in Central America, and the thing that I definitely love the most about my country is our beautiful surroundings: we have these amazing green mountains, we have these beautiful beaches, we have very diverse wildlife populations, but I always noticed that many of our people don’t know how to properly take care of the environment that we’re so privileged to have. 

You’ll see people throwing waste into lakes, or people in cars or buses throwing their garbage out the window with no concern. 

And, in the case of El Salvador, many of these people are doing this damage out of ignorance, because caring for the planet hasn’t really been ingrained in our small society, our education, or  our culture.

JH: How does sustainability influence your decisions? To what extent does your interest in climate change inform your goals (perhaps for a future career, or simply in how you purchase, consume, and behave)?

FB: Unfortunately, taking bigger steps like, opting for a more eco-friendly transportation method in El Salvador is very hard, because we don’t really have those markets of walking or using bicycles because we have a high crime rate. But to offset that, I’ve learned to introduce habits into my home life. We divide the trash into plastics, glass and general waste. Whenever I go to the store, I take a cotton tote with me, instead of using plastic bags the store offers, and I try to replace plastic for other materials, like switching out plastic straws to a reusable metal straw. 

Even if these are small actions, I’ve learned that when it comes to helping our planet, we can do it in the simplest ways, and that is exactly why it shouldn’t be a hard decision for anyone.

JH: You’ve already attracted 15 other students to your club. What advice do you have for other students who may be interested in starting a Model G20 club?

FB: I would really recommend planning the strategy you’re going to use to recruit members. We began our club during the COVID-10 pandemic, and Christina, Alexia, and I struggled a lot, thinking about how we’d recruit members. We finally came to the conclusion to ask our school principal to post a notice about our club to our school page. We knew we’d have to let anyone interested know that this is a club that they’re going to have to do hard work, and research, and really give their time for it, so it was important to us that we attracted members who really want to be there and want to make change.

JH: What do your co-members look like, personality-wise?

FB: I definitely see a lot of kids who were previously involved in our school’s more serious clubs, like Model UN and the school government — kids who were involved at a high level. Responsible, and caring, and future-focused.

JH: What’s the best thing you’ve learned about smart tech for sustainable cities so far?

FB: We found a lot of really cool implementations of smart tech in sustainable cities, so I’m going to share the three pieces of research that eventually got incorporated into the proposal for our final presentations. The first one is electric cars, which a lot of people are familiar with but isn’t all that common in El Salvador, so I think my club loved learning more about that. 

The second thing is the “vertical garden”, which are like green spaces that are exposed on the outside of buildings. If you have a really crowded city like New York, where there’s not really that much space to add greenery, the idea would say that a would establish green gardens crawling up buildings, and that would provide better oxygen levels, and look beautiful. 

The last one is really close to my heart because it’s something I’d love to see in my city, which are security cameras in cities. I think it’s an amazing idea to install more cameras: first of all, people would feel safer and, second, of all, people might opt for more eco-friendly methods of transportation. Personally, if I knew my city was safe, I would walk or take my bike to school, rather than the bus or a car.

JH: What are some key takeaways, so far, from your time as a Model G20 club leader?

FB: Founding a Model G20  club has taught me so much, from being able to share and expand my ideas with students with different perspectives, to helping others and planning. It also helped me realize that our voices as youth are no smaller than anyone else’s: that climate change is a concern that should be handled by everyone, it should concern everyone that it’s not only a forthcoming that politicians should handle. I really believe that me, as a 16-year-old student from El Salvador, I can make a difference for our planet and that my voice matters.

JH: Looking ahead, how do you hope to use the skills and experiences you’re gaining through your Model G20 club in your career or future schooling?

FB: I definitely want to include some of some sustainability in my college studies, but aside from that, I think that the 2021 February Climate Change Summit really built the foundation for the skills of public speaking, communication, leadership, that I use now in the club, especially since I was part of the Summit’s Deciding Committee. At the Summit, I was able to give a speech to 500 students my age; to moderate discussions and motivate other students into sharing their own ideas. 

Especially when it comes to being a leader in your school, in your college, in your community, you really need to step out of your comfort zone and explore what might frighten you.

Favorite Five

Class at school: AP US History!

Book: The Stranger, by Albert Camus.

Food: Mexican tacos! Ground meat, guacamole, and onions, in a soft tortilla. I don’t get the hard shell thing; it crumbles immediately and everything falls out!

Color: Light blue, a nice, light sky blue.

Quote: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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