Meet Hannah Alper: The 16 year old who is paving the way for the younger generation of activists
Tell us a little bit about yourself- what age did you start your blog, and what inspired you to start?
I'm 16 years old and I have been a youth activist since I was 9 years old. Me and my parents were on our way home from a digital safety conference and there was a three hour blogging workshop so I decided to start a blog. But I didn't know what I wanted it to be about.
My parents told me I couldn't write about myself or Justin Bieber, it had to be something I was passionate about. All I knew was that I loved animals. I started learning about deforestation and animal habitat loss, and decided to use my blog to write about the environment and the tangible things we can do to make a difference. The issues I'm passionate about have really grown since then, as well as the platforms I use to reach people to recognize that they have the power to create change.
How do you find balancing your high school workload, blog, public events and travels?
I have always believed that we are living in an amazing time where we can use social media and the internet to amplify our voice and the voices of others for good. This holds especially true when it comes to school and prioritizing. I have been able to take online courses that let me go at my own pace. And they are super cool courses too. Like gender studies and aboriginal issues in Canada.
What was your experience like of going to WE DAY? As well as Kenya with ME to WE, and Costa Rica with National Geographic?
All the places I have been able to travel to and things I have experienced all have two things in common. They are all about making in person connections and having those conversations that inspire you and will never forget. The second is that I found my community, like-minded people who are passionate about making the world better. WE Day was the first time I saw that I wasn't alone in young people making their communities and the world better right now, and I travelled across North America, meeting those people who I now call my community.
In Kenya, I saw the issues that I had been learning about for so long as an activist in person first hand. I was in the community, building the foundation for schools that would be the key to the future for so many people. I also bonded with the girls at Kisaruni Girls High School who are going to do incredible things with their education and can now call my friends. I saw what giving a hand up, not a handout means in person, which just motivated me even more to learn and motivate others to make a difference.
And in Costa Rica, the trip was totally focused on sustainability and the environment, which was something really interesting. One of my favourite moments of the trip was after waiting for four hours, I got to see a sea turtle hatch her eggs. After she went back into the water, I had the chance to count every single egg: 84 of them. It was amazing. After that, we had to move the eggs to a safer place and bury them in the sand so that poachers wouldn't take them. Something super unique about the trip is that I had the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone in so many different ways whether it was going surfing, white water rafting or even just going on the trip knowing nobody going into it.
In the beginning of your journey starting out, how did you push past the doubts and insecurities of not knowing if your actions would make a change?
Honestly, I didn't. I was 9 years old and I never thought "I'm too young. What will people say? What if it doesn't work out?" I had a passion and I just started talking about it. I just did it. I think thats the really awesome thing about young people. When a lot of young people kickstart their changemaking journey, they don't start out with all these doubts and insecurities. Nobody should really, if you're passionate about a cause, go for it because nothing bad will happen that you won't be proud of.
What are the greatest entrepreneurial/changemaking achievements that you've accomplished and are proud of? Why are these achievements remarkable?
Definitely using social media for social good. Ever since I started using social media, I have been sure to be the good and connect with other young people who are starting or taking the next step in their changemaking journey. I have been able to amplify other people's voices and lend my voice to causes that I am passionate about. Another accomplishment that I am proud of has been remaining positive and optimistic. Not dwelling on the problem but looking toward and sharing the solutions and actions that we can all take to make a difference so that people aren't overwhelmed or daunted by the issues in the world.
How do you get around putting yourself out there, and the anxiety that comes with it? Not knowing what might happen next?
It's definitely scary, but I remain optimistic and positive for what's next. I don't always know what is next, but I'm excited about it. Because there are always issues I can get involved in and lend my voice to. There's always people doing amazing things that I can share and I can amplify my own message. So I'm always authentic and open and passionate, which can be a very powerful thing. When that happens, I know nothing bad will happen that I won't be proud of.
What helps you maintain your drive? What motivates you each day to do what you're doing?
My peers all over the world. The young people I see everyday in person or on social creating that change on so so so many different issues. Whether that's the brave March For Our Lives students, the young people fighting climate change and the girls in Kenya achieving their own education.
What habits have been key to your own personal success in your entrepreneurial venture and role as a changemaker?
Passion and curiosity. Drawing on my own passion and the passion of others. You can't help but get excited when you talk to someone that's passionate. And that feeling never gets old. Also definitely learning, I believe that in order to take action on an issue, you have to care about it and in order to care about it you have to really know the issue.
What advice would you give to a young person such as yourself who intends to embark on a journey of making change? But just doesn't know where to start?
Start with what matters to you. When I started it was the environment, I was 9. As I got older, I remained curious about other things like poverty, education, homelessness, mental health and more. Never lose that curiosity.
Always be empathetic. That's the key in a change making journey. When you can be empathetic with others and a cause, I promise you'll be successful.
What's your favourite girls trip/adventure memory?
There are so many. When I saw this question, I just thought about the endless amount of times me and my friends have been in our rooms or in the car, dancing and singing our hearts out to Shawn Mendes or Mr. Brightside. It's those moments when you look around and you think "Damn. I'm lucky."
How have you turned a situation of gender discrimination around?
By being a feminist. Being one can be looked down upon these days, which sucks. There's a negative connotation with feminism now, a lot of people think that it's about tearing men down to lift women up. But that's not true. The definition of feminism is being whoever you want to be, despite your gender. Period. So for me, it's saying I'm a feminist and proud to be one.
As well, just lifting other women up and helping them be the best women they want to be is the best thing you can do in the journey to gender equality.
What are some exciting projects that you can tell us about that are coming up next for you?
A few weeks ago, I launched #FeedTO, where I drove around downtown Toronto with 100 care packages, giving them to people experiencing homelessness. I made real life connections and helped others recognize the humanity and the everyday things you can do to tackle homelessness. I'm going to be taking the next steps with FeedTO, amplifying the state of homelessness in Toronto even more and what we can all do to help.
If you could back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would you give her?
Grade 8 and everything that it is ends. You'll go to high school where there will be new people, you'll make incredible friends and grade 8 will be in the rear view forever.