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Appreciating Power with Carla van der Pauw

With the support of our partner BC Hydro, Science World spotlights amazing and passionate leaders. They help students and community members develop clean energy mindsets and power smart practices for a brighter future.

Thirty years ago, near the end of El Salvador’s decade-long civil war, Carla and her family experienced frequent and erratic rolling blackouts.

As the country attempted to negotiate a ceasefire, opponents damaged the national power system, halving its normal electricity supply.

At the age of eight, Carla returned home from school often to find the power had gone out. She remembers candlelight at night and the steady hum of back-up generators.

"From a very young age, I knew the importance of electricity. And its unpredictability only made me appreciate it more.”

Land of Plenty

At nine, Carla and her family arrived in British Columbia as refugees. Here alone, without the support an extended family can provide, they grew even more conscious of resource usage and waste.

“The idea of being tied to the land, and how you can abuse it or use it sustainably, has always been a part of my consciousness,” she says.

The first time she attended her new school in Burnaby, she marveled at the size of the huge building. She stood in the entryway and looked down the long hall of lockers at what felt like “an endless row of fluorescent lights.”

“It was incredible,” she says. “There was no sense of scarcity, only plenty.”

Still, her family continued to be frugal and practice conservation. In the summers, she and her visiting grandmother picked blackberries with ice cream buckets. The ones they didn’t eat fresh off the vine they’d take home to make jam or juice.

On weekends, they traveled to local lakes and beaches to appreciate the West Coast’s natural beauty. Inevitably, Carla noted the trash that others left behind. She felt compelled to ensure these areas remained clean and accessible for future visitors and future generations.

Beyond the Walls

For 13 years, Carla has held the title of teacher sponsor for the Eco-Action Group at Thomas Haney Secondary in School District 42.

Boosted by BC Hydro’s Energy Challenge, the group brings awareness to issues that affect their school and the greater community. “I love the idea of the students seeing beyond their walls to other individuals and organizations that are trying to be more sustainable.”

In-school efforts include unplugging appliances, installing water-bottle refill stations and running a composting pilot project with worm bins and solar cones.

Carla observes that often, when we consume energy, we stop thinking about it, “but the planet doesn’t.”  

She supports her students as they experience the developmental stages that allow them to see beyond their interior walls. “It’s incredibly fun to work with teenagers as they become more aware of the future and their ability to impact it.”

Living Proof

In the past few years, climate change has shown up increasingly in BC. Carla says she values her work with BC Hydro and other organizations focused on sustainability because they have the architecture to show the impact of her school’s efforts in actual numbers and data.

“I can show my students proof that what they do has a ripple effect across their community. It motivates them.”

And, she has her own inspiring proof of her lifelong efforts in her wider community.

A few months ago, she heard a former student's name on the radio during a news story about a hunger strike at SFU. Jaden Dyer led the effort with the goal of convincing administration to divest from fossil fuels.

Jaden told media, “Accepting our ultimatum will not only have an immediate impact, but a rippling one, that will shift cultural attitudes towards the use of fossil fuels worldwide...How can SFU expect to raise the leaders of tomorrow if they are not willing to lead by example today?”

The group canceled the hunger strike when the university released a statement committing to full fossil fuel divestment by 2025.

Carla reflects, “A lot of the time, we don't see ourselves as leaders. The feedback I get most often from students is how grateful they are to be empowered with opportunities to lead.”

Across BC, teachers like Carla make schools and communities more sustainable. 

Teachers can visit Power Smart for Schools, BC Hydro’s free, curriculum-friendly resources that bring clean energy and conservation to life in the classroom.