11/26/2012 09:05 EST | Updated 01/26/2013 05:12 EST

Why Listening to Children Could Help the Environment

Children in developing and developed countries may be different when it comes to daily life or how they'd like to leave their mark on the world, but one thing rings true universally: children are increasingly concerned about the health of the planet and have very real fears about climate change, pollution and natural disasters.

The new Small Voices, Big Dreams survey commissioned by Christian Children's Fund of Canada and the global ChildFund Alliance, showed that one-third of children globally cite pollution as the environmental problem they worry most about, while one-fifth are most concerned about natural disasters. Fifty-three per cent of Canadian children said they were most worried about pollution.

We asked over 6,200 children across 47 countries about their hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their thoughts on the environment. It was surprising how aware children are of the issues facing our planet and how promising it is that they want to help others around them. Providing for children's basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter was one thing that Canadian children believed they could do to improve the lives of others.

The regional trends were clear. Children's fears were motivated by the immediate world around them. In Africa, where close to half the children have experienced major weather events such as drought or earthquakes, natural disasters are the biggest environmental worry for over a quarter of children, compared to the Americas where pollution is top of mind.

In addition to their concerns about pollution, one in five Canadian children also said they were worried about climate change and global warming. Discussions about the impact of climate change around the world continue to link to various environmental events, and the fears that our children here in Canada have expressed about this are very real. This finding was particularly timely for CCFC with the launch of our Christmas Wish program supporting drought-ridden regions in Burkina Faso, Africa. For much of 2012, Burkina Faso has been severely impacted by a drought which has wiped out livestock, crops, and livelihoods.

We also learned about children's future ambitions and how they differ globally. Children in developing countries were more likely to dream of careers that ensured the basic needs of their community are met in the future, with one in four citing helping professions such as a teacher, social worker or healthcare professional. In developed countries, there was a higher desire among children to leave their mark on the world by becoming professional athletes and entertainers.

It can be difficult for people in the developed world to find common ground with those in developing countries. This survey shows that, in a lot of ways, children are children everywhere. In the recent past, I have traveled to more than 10 developing countries around the globe. I've seen children and their parents as victims of floods, drought, and other emergencies and am always in awe of their resiliency in dealing with these crises.

Through this survey we are reminded that children can think beyond themselves and consider how their world can be improved. Understanding how children view and experience the world is critical as we aim to foster the next generation of environmental ambassadors.

CCFC is working in the community of Zorgho to provide emergency food, clean water, and shelter to those affected by this crisis. CCFC and the combined global ChildFund Alliance, work towards breaking the cycle of poverty with more than 15 million impoverished children and families in 56 countries worldwide. To learn more about the Christmas Wish program and the environmental crisis in Burkina Faso, visit

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