13 November, 2018   By: Wendy Caccetta

Bella Burgemeister was a little kid with big ideas when she set out to make the world a better place.

Her mother showed the ten-year old a video of the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Pakistani woman Malala Yousafzai, speaking about the United Nation’s blueprint to fight poverty and inequality and save the planet by 2030.

At her home in Dalyellup, an outer suburb of Bunbury, the message connected, so she decided to write a book explaining the UN goals to other kids.

“Malala was talking about how kids can make changes even if they’re small and what they can do to help," says Bella, now 12. "I got really passionate about it and was wondering what I could do so I thought about writing a book about the global goals."

It was an ambitious undertaking for a 10-year-old given she had to work out how to explain everything from economic growth to responsible consumption and production for kids her own age and her only previous experience was writing a book about fishing with her family as part of a primary school project. 

Bella Burgemeister, 10, speaking about UN environmental goals
Bella explaining the UN goals to students to fight poverty, inequality, and climate change

To help get the project up and running, Bella approached local author Kate Healslip, who she had met through the school book writing project. 

Kate, whose organisation The Book Incubator helps people write and share their stories through different mediums, didn’t think twice about freely giving her time, and the pair spent 10 months of Sundays together giving life to Bella’s vision.

“At the time she was really little,” Kate says.

“She wouldn’t talk in the meetings. She was really young. It’s been wonderful to watch her grow up through this.

"She’s not so afraid to talk now - she’s articulate and she’s gorgeous.”

Bella says her friends thought she was mad.

“All my friends wanted to go out and do stuff but I'd be sitting at Kate’s house working on the book and they’d all be having fun,” she says.

To fund the book’s publication, Bella spoke at a Neighbourhood Soup evening in Bunbury — which provides money for community projects — and was awarded $1300. She added $700 she saved up in pocket money.

Bella Bergemeister after speaking at the Bunbury Soup, aged 10
Bella Bergemeister after speaking at the Bunbury Soup, aged 10 

The book Bella’s Challenge was launched in January last year using “kids’ speak” and illustrations to convey important world issues and sets challenges for children to help work towards a brighter future.

All the schools in the Bunbury region have a copy and the first print run of 500 books has sold out, with a wait list for future orders.

Bella is working on an updated and revised version of the book - it sells for $20 - due out in 2019.

Since the book launch, Bella has found herself an in demand speaker on sustainability at schools and community events, addressing around 4000 children and also adult groups. She is also a member of the Bunbury Youth Advisory Council, which advises the City of Bunbury, and the co-president of environmental group Millennium Kids in WA.

Bella Burgemeister showcasing her book
Bella is a strong advocate for her local community

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She’s now also found a new cause, putting income from Bella’s Challenge towards lockers for homeless people.

While accompanying Kate as she put together a photographic exhibition about homelessness in the local community, Bella was moved by the plight of Bunbury’s homeless.

“At one point we were talking to some of the homeless and they were talking about how their stuff kept getting stolen or taken and that they’d really love a locker or something they could put their stuff in,” Bella says.

“When homeless people walk down the street with their bags and things they get stared at by people making judgements. So the idea of them being able to walk down the street without the stigma attached would be like freedom to them. 

“The other part was letting them own a part of our city because they don’t really own much in our city.”

She successfully convinced the City of Bunbury on the merits of the idea.

The first of 24 lockers is due to be installed at the Graham Bricknell Music Shell in Bunbury in early 2019, with the City providing $30,000 in funding for the project and community members including Bella, donating $3000.

The cover of Bella Burgemeister's book, Bella's Challenge
She used proceeds from her book towards lockers for the homeless in the City of Bunbury

In daily life Bella, who has two older brothers in their 20s, a younger brother who is 11 and 10 foster siblings, practices what she preaches for the planet.

“We have chickens and veggie gardens and solar panels and no plastic in our house at all,” Bella says.

“We use bees wax wrap for cling wrap and school lunches, reusable shopping bags when we shop, and reusable coffee cups when we go out. We always use paper and metal and bamboo straws and we have a set of cutlery in everyone’s bags.

“We always try to leave no impact on the planet, no carbon footprint.”

Mother Marlie says Bella, who is home-schooled, organises the younger children to make toothpaste, which they use from individual glass jars. 

She says Bella’s strong social conscience may be partly due to her early years in impoverished East Timor, or Timor Leste, where Marlie’s husband Craig worked as a construction manager for the army.

Bella’s grandmother also encouraged community-mindedness.

“My mum was into kindness,” Marlie says.

“She would always say ‘the only way to be in the world is kind. If you can be nothing else, just be kind’.”

Bella will soon be a teenager. She says she doesn’t have any particular career in mind yet, just to be happy.

“I think Bella is going to be someone to watch in the future,” says Kate. 

“When she’s out there on her own it will be interesting to see which way she goes. Wherever Bella ends up, this has been a wonderful platform for her to jump from.”

Photos supplied to RAC by the Burgemeister family

In October, Bella was awarded the RAC Innovation for a Sustainable Award at the WA Youth Awards for her efforts. RAC is a proud sponsor of this award, which recognises young people contributing to the community through innovation and sustainability. 

The WA Youth Awards recognise young Western Australians between 12 and 25 for their achievements and contributions to the community. 

Bella's Challenge is currently out of stock, but a revised edition is due next year and will be available from The Book Incubator

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