NEWSLETTER SIGNUP

By signing up to our newsletter, you agree to our terms.

Citizen of the Week: Rehka Dhillon-Richardson

The University City resident has turned her passion for the environment into a local girls climate summit and two trips to the U.N.—all by the age of 17

The University City resident has turned her passion for the environment into a local girls climate summit and two trips to the U.N.—all by the age of 17

Rehka Dhillon-Richardson spent her youngest years in a small town near Vancouver, where a few steps to the right was the beach; there she explored tidepool eels, fish and coral. To the left, was a “mountain” called Soames Hill, where she spent her time hiking the trails and searching for slugs after a rainy day. It was there she learned an awe of nature.

Over the years, as she travelled back to Vancouver from Philadelphia, Dhillon-Richardson noticed something: The environment that she loved so dearly was changing in front of her, the result of rapid climate change. And she found that most people didn’t share the same respect and love for the environment that she did.

“When I got older, I started realizing in the world around me that things weren’t right,” says Dhillon-Richardson, who moved to University City so her mom could finish her Ph.D. in anthropology at Penn. “I wanted to do my best to protect [the environment] the best way I could.”

“I think one of the most crucial things I’ve learned so far in this entire journey is that there’s hope,” she says. “[Many people] are afraid. By having these experiences, you meet people who are very positive, and they’re positive about the future. There’s so many great people out there who are doing amazing work.”

Now 17, and a senior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Dhillon-Richardson has turned that desire to protect the earth into an all-day Girls Climate Change Summit in Philadelphia, with over 100 students from 18 area middle and high schools. And she has twice travelled to Geneva to participate in the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Dhillon-Richardson’s environmental activism started between 7th and 8th grade, on her annual summer vacation in Vancouver, when she interned at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental advocacy nonprofit. As part of her internship, she wrote a submission to the U.N. Convention contending that Canada was in violation of the international agreement because its environmental policies were allowing children to suffer the effects of climate change. (The United States has not signed on to the Convention, which declares civil, economic, health, social and cultural rights of children.)

Her letter was read by the Convention, and she was invited to go to Geneva to meet with delegates. She attended the Convention again last year, this time as a speaker on an expert panel about the impact of climate change on children, along with other young leaders and environmental activists. Her speech was about environmental degradation and its impacts on children (see video here).

“I think one of the most crucial things I’ve learned so far in this entire journey is that there’s hope,” she says. “[Many people] are afraid. By having these experiences, you meet people who are very positive, and they’re positive about the future. There’s so many great people out there who are doing amazing work.”

Dhillon-Richardson says the best part of her “humbling” trips to the U.N. was meeting different people from all over the world, like 18-year-old Brianna Fruean, an environmental activist from Samoa, with whom she has become friends.

Since the summer, Dhillon-Richardson has been learning nonstop about climate change to prepare for her third Climate Summit, to be held in April. The one-day conference, held at Springside, has four goals: To educate girls about climate change; encourage girls to participate in issues impacting the world; brainstorm ideas about climate justice; and establish a network of young, passionate climate leaders in Philadelphia. The day is jampacked with workshops by local organizations to discuss their work, and how they’re facing climate change, like the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Zoo.

Dhillon-Richardson conceived of the Climate Summit in 9th grade, after attending her first U.N. panel, and developed it through Springside’s Venture Incubator entrepreneurship program. The first year, in 2015, the summit drew 65 students from 12 schools. It has grown in size and scope every year since.

Citizen of the Week: Rehka Dhillon-Richardson, climate change summit

“I think that at last year’s summit, the workshops were more relevant and more focused,” Dhillon-Richardson said. “The quality of the workshops have really improved from the first year to the second.”

Although she’ll be off to college in the fall—she doesn’t yet know where—Dhillon-Richardson is setting her summit up to become a Philadelphia staple even without her. She’s recruiting a student team of Springside freshmen and sophomores to take over when she leaves. And she is creating a nonprofit called Girls for Climate Justice, to launch by the end of 2017, that will host the yearly summit. Girls for Climate Justice will also host News Action Network, a blog for her and “like-minded” students to have conversations about climate change. Eventually, Dhillon-Richardson plans for the nonprofit to provide grants and funding for students to create their own climate summits, throughout the country.

“I think one of the most crucial things I’ve learned so far in this entire journey is that there’s hope,” she says. “[Many people] are afraid, there’s a lot of negative press. By having these experiences, you meet people who are very positive, and they’re positive about the future. There’s so many great people out there who are doing amazing work.”

Photos by Sabina Louise Pierce

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

Recent Tweets
@THEPHILACITIZEN

@thephilacitizen @@thephilacitizen
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
THURS @TempleUniv's Nora Wilson will host an event on how to administer NARCAN in the face of Philly's drug crises. https://t.co/GjuB3aa2PY 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
"The Sky is the Limit" 17 hosted by @ATTRACTPhilly this Saturday, 1PM at Penrose Rec. This event is free. https://t.co/2vYJqONEdq 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Tomorrow @PhilaSoup comes to @magicgardens for their annual Kick Off! Join them and help Philly students. 6-9PM $15 https://t.co/Blie1YPEgk 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
After decades of disinvestment and disruption, Philadelphia's 60th Street business corridor plots its comeback.… https://t.co/MdgChe1RKX 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Scratched #SolarEclipse2017 shades cannot be reused in 2024 according to @NASA but they can be recycled. https://t.co/24QGcTcvkQ 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
"The solution to those problems may lie in the small city of Macon, Georgia." #Philadelphia #bikegrids #macongeorgia https://t.co/CSpD5vD2tH 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
“Our disease is not being treated equal,” Meet Monday's Disruptor: Dana Donofree with @AnaOnoIntimates. https://t.co/07M4NXhZPo 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Did you miss last week's Reality Check? @ellisonreport with the story on Rizzo and his statue. #OnWurd https://t.co/sKdIlcfQAc 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Our own @quinnocallaghan sat in with @onwurd a few weeks back to discuss race. Read the thoughtful companion piece. https://t.co/QennLkHPwa 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Join @officialsouthst from 6-8PM & speak w/ city officials, police & community mbrs on homelessness & solutions. https://t.co/NRNq9P3lP9 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Could a measure similar to Macon Ga's temporary bike grid change things for bicyclists here in Philadelphia?… https://t.co/3Y5cjLZCjL 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Watch the solar eclipse, party with @PhilaSoup and more this week with our Do Something guide to civic engagement. https://t.co/dqQwodYgHB 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
“I feel more fulfilled and happier in my life than I ever have,” Dana Donofree with @AnaOnoIntimates https://t.co/07M4NX0oqO 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Who'd have your vote as the next Philly statue? From our African American All Star series by Charles Barkley. https://t.co/D8g4yjxvIO 

LOAD MORE

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story