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LIC student testifies during U.N. climate conference

Maya Faison signs off as her teacher and Global Kids instructor, Claire Cuno, looks on. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

In a quiet conference room near the entrance of Long Island City High School last Thursday, a student who lost her uncle during Hurricane Sandy made a strong case for better education about climate change to a room of leaders a world away.

“I know now more than ever why it is important to act on making the Earth a more sustainable place,” Laurelton resident Maya Faison, 16, told attendees of Youth Facing Climate Change Across the U.S., co-hosted by the U.S. State Department and the environmental nonprofit SustainUS.

She spoke via video link on a laptop computer in Queens during the gathering, which was part of the 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.

“A lot of people underestimated the storm, including me, my family and my friends. That is a decision we will never forget,” she said.

Faison’s uncle, 74-year-old Albert McSwain, died several days after falling down a darkened stairwell in the Hammels Houses in the Rockaways the day after Sandy struck. The NYPD has classified his death as one of 43 attributed to the storm.

Faison’s testimony had been scheduled while McSwain was still in the hospital and before he died from his injuries.

“Because of Sandy’s impact on the subway systems and the gas shortage, it was hard for us to even go see him in the hospital,” Faison told the panel.

In addition, the home she lives in with her mother, 14-year-old sister, aunt and grandmother, was without power for about a week.

“At night, the darkness was like a cover. It wrapped all around us and trees were down everywhere,” Faison testified. “We were freezing, afraid and not knowing what to expect.”

Several days after the storm, Faison’s mother ran out of gas and the family could not travel to loved ones homes’ to take hot showers.

So for the final two nights before power was restored, Faison stayed with Evie Hantzopoulos, the executive director of Global Kids, an educational nonprofit aimed at youth development where Faison serves on the board.

For the high school senior, her passion for environmental issues has grown over the years during her involvement with Global Kids, which operates in 11 city schools. She signed up for the group during freshman orientation and has focused on climate change, along with women’s and children’s rights and domestic violence, ever since.

Earlier this year, Faison worked with other students to develop a campaign to convince President Barack Obama to attend the Rio+20 Earth Summit, which she attended in Brazil.

“Being there was like being a part of history since this is a movement,” she said of the conference.

In her testimony last week, Faison recommended that youth be taught about climate change in school and for emergency planning in advance of natural disasters.

“Just like we have fire drills in schools, we need to have evacuation plans and disaster preparedness kits,” she said, advocating for alternative energy like wind.

In addition, she called for advertisements about environmental issues.

“Most times we are oblivious to the destruction that comes along with the changing climate and severe weather conditions. The storm made it clear to us New Yorkers that climate change is not only real but it affects us, too,” she said.

Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at timesledgerphotos@gmail.com or by phone at 718-260-4589.

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