Members’ Voices: Utah International Mountain Forum, Samuel Elzinga


I am a Utah Valley University (UVU) student and president of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), the club I have been a part of for the past two years. Youth advocacy is at the heart of UVU, which is nestled in the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah, United States of America. In 2006, UVU became the first North American academic institution to be a Mountain Partnership member. The UIMF is a coalition of student clubs at UVU that focuses on promoting sustainable mountain development through advocacy campaigns at all levels.

As someone interested in international affairs and originally from a small mining town in Colorado, I was naturally drawn to the UIMF for its diplomacy for sustainable mountain development. I wanted to be part of the group that contributed to the inclusion of the mountain targets in the 2015 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (Targets 6.6, 15.1 and 15.4). Each UIMF member has a deep, personal connection to mountains, whether they are international students from Saudi Arabia or Ukraine, or born and raised in Utah. Because everyone in the coalition has a connection to mountains, we all understand the importance of advocating for them at UN forums.

Growing up in Colorado, the environment was integral to my daily life. In school, most of our field trips were outside learning about conservation. As I grew up, I was fascinated with the early mountain history of Colorado, and spent many summers with my parents in the mountains visiting historical sites that ranged from old mines to fur trapping settlements. I also spent much of my childhood in the mountainous city of Boulder, Colorado. It was there, in the Rocky Mountains, that I frequented the Dushanbe Tea House, a traditional teahouse shipped piece by piece from Tajikistan. It was because of this teahouse in the mountains that my interest in the mountain communities of Central Asia took root, and this topic has become the focus of my university studies. These years in the mountains spent learning about their history and culture instilled in me a reverence for them, which I still carry today.

Through this reverence for mountains, I have found an even deeper meaning working with UIMF. With the coalition, I have had many opportunities. I published an article in which I traced the lands-use history of Eagle County, Colorado, in UVU’s journal, Youth and the Mountains, which is published in association with UIMF. I also gained diplomacy and networking skills by interacting with UN representatives of various countries while advocating for mountain communities.

In my time leading the coalition, I have had the chance to advocate for mountain communities at different UN forums. These events have taught me skills for raising awareness about challenges that mountain communities face, and how integral mountains are for billions of people’s way of life. I have learned the unique ways mountain communities around the globe make the most of their climate.

Meeting with diplomats and learning about their local mountain communities has given me a greater appreciation for how Utah approaches local development. Despite being in an inhospitable climate, Utah’s mountain communities are thriving. It is not a community’s location, but their resilience and their financial and political support, which makes the difference.

Through the generous sponsorship of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, I and two other UIMF students presented during general debates of the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. It was exhilarating for us to have such a large platform to advocate for the mountain targets and focusing on mountain communities in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

We at UIMF specifically advocate for mountain women and girls at UN forums, like the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women. UVU raises funds to co-host the international Women of the Mountains Conferences (WOMC), an academic forum to improve mountain women’s status globally.

UVU has also been celebrating International Mountain Day every year for nearly a decade. Our objective is to raise awareness about mountain issues in Utah, the United States of America and North America. We commemorate the day in conjunction with Mountain Partnership members City of Orem and the Gruppman International Music Institute.

I hope more people become aware of the challenges experienced by mountain communities around the globe, including food insecurity and climate change. My continued hope for mountain communities is that they are able to make their voices heard in local and national governments and at the international level to help address the disparities that exist between mountain communities and their lowland counterparts. The most important thing that each of us can do to support mountain communities is learn and implement the UN sustainable mountain development agenda.

News from Samuel Elzinga and Baktybek Abdrisaev - Utah Valley University & Utah International Mountain Forum

Photo from Baktybek Abdrisaev

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