Catching up with Ocean Bridge Alumni: Da Chen
It’s been a busy few months for Da Chen since he graduated as one of the 40 members of the inaugural Ocean Bridge cohort.
One might think that the first year of a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Toronto might cause him to take a break and be satisfied with the work he and his fellow youth ocean ambassadors have accomplished over the past year.
Not so for Da.
Yes, he’s ensured to keep a focus on academics. But he’s also been selected to join the United Nations Association of Canada’s (UNAC) Building Young Entrepreneur program, which provides skill sets, expertise and mentorship for youth between the ages of 18 to 29 to participate in the sustainable economy and promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
And if that wasn’t enough, Da has also become a member of the Youth Advisory Board for Waterlution. He’s helping the organization promote water awareness and opportunities for collaboration in creating sustainable and innovative water management systems in the Greater Toronto Area.
Da credits the experiences he shared with his fellow Ocean Bridge team members for opening new doors and being invaluable to both his academic and personal lives.
“I think a big component of my study is actually focusing on how to bring more Indigenous knowledge and perspective in the planning of cities,” explains Da. “That was a big component when we went to Haida Gwaii and when we went to Vancouver.”
“At the same time, I was also really inspired by the experience we had exploring the different marine areas, especially along the West Coast, looking at the oceans, looking at different plastic issues happening, and trying to bring that perspective when planning our cities, keeping these issues in the forefront and being more aware about them.”
Da often still thinks often about those two trips in 2018, and how they helped open his mind even further to the troubles of Canada’s colonial legacy and the trauma it’s inflicted upon Indigenous people.
“Part of me really felt that by knowing about these experiences and this history, there’s a responsibility for us to act and do something about it,” he says.
“When you don’t know something, you might not feel responsible or feel the need to do something. But once you realize, once you learn, you can’t just pretend you don’t know. You can’t just pretend it doesn’t affect you.”
Da is also still heavily involved with The Pristine Blue Initiative, the youth outreach group he founded during his year with Ocean Bridge. It’s grown to now include a dozen members, with an ever-active Facebook page and numerous ocean awareness and service events throughout the year.
In a bustling metropolis like Toronto, Da admits it can be easy for a small organization like his to feel lost in the shuffle.
But he adds he doesn’t do what he does because it’s easy.
“A big issue we’ve found working in many different areas is that youth voices are often not being heard in policy and decision-making processes,” explains Da about the Pristine Blue’s direction moving forward. “It’s something we really want to claim as an identity: having that youth voice as a perspective, and really advocating for youth decision-makers and amplifying youth leaders.”
Da notes he’s already friends with a few members of the 2019 cohort and has been following their activities on the community space as they build up to their wilderness expedition to the North Shore of Lake Superior from June 14-24.