In the past few years, many of our Community Reporters have written about their efforts to conserve the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. Today, we recognise some of them who have succeeded in making a difference.
For Kehkashan Basu, a 15-year-old student based in Dubai, the journey began when she was eight. She was born on June 5, which happens to be World Environment Day, and on her eightht birthday, she was able to listen to a lecture by British environmentalist Robert Swan. Something he said struck the right chord.
She said: “I decided to start taking action, which initiated with me planting a tree, followed by a campaign for recycling and waste reduction in my neighbourhood.”
As a result of this project, she was invited to attend the Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on Environment in Indonesia in 2011 and there was no looking back. Today, she is the Global Coordinator for the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Major Groups for Children and Youth, making her the youngest person to ever hold this position. She has travelled to more than 20 countries and spoken at over 50 international summits organised by the United Nations (UN) on sustainability. She has also formed a youth group in the UAE, the Green Hope Foundation, which participates in campaigns around the country to conserve the environment.
“All children have the potential to be changemakers. We just need an opportunity,” she said.
Simran Vedvyas, a 15-year-old student based in Dubai, was inspired by her grandfather’s farm in India. When she would visit, at the age of seven, she would spend time with the children of the workers, teaching them English and in return learning about the environmental hazards and threats to children, while they planted saplings together.
This is when she decided to engage in activities focusing on educating youngsters about making the world safer.
She said: “Every project had its own set of challenges, but I continued leading students from various institutions through my youth group SynergY.”
They pledged to contribute their best by advocating that “everyone must adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle” and work towards a better future. Along with her group, she has successfully planted over 3,000 trees in landfills around the UAE and distributed food to thousands of workers during Ramadan. She was invited as a youth speaker to the Eye on Earth Summit in 2011 and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.
Her focus now is on conducting workshops and encouraging youth to participate in hands-on experiences in maintaining landfills.
She said: “We raise awareness through more environmental programs, such as mangrove rehabilitation, beach clean up and recycling and reducing waste.”
Rohan Kapur, a 17-year-old student in Sharjah, took part in the Earth Day activities in his school when he was seven and he refers to it as “love at first sight”. The idea of keeping Nature intact drove him to take steps to work towards environmental conservation.
He said: “I believe that small steps make a big difference. My initiative, ‘Serve The Earth’, has made a huge difference, inspiring over 60 students and their families to work towards a greener tomorrow. The recycling initiatives have managed to collect over 12,000kg of paper, 3,500kg of plastic and 400kg of cans over a span of three events in 2015 and 2016. We have managed to save more than 204 trees, which is a relatively massive impact.”
He was also appointed the Ambassador of Tunza Eco-Generation to the Middle East and works closely with Bee’ah, Sharjah’s environmental management company. He is aware that it is a big responsibility, but does not plan to slow down.
“On World Environment Day in 2016, we planted 45 trees, which means we are reducing our carbon footprint drastically. We also diverted more than 131,000kg of CO2 through the e-waste recycling event in January,” he said.
He also organised a neighbourhood recycling project, wherein people in his community recycle newspapers. And in 2015, he represented UAE at the Global Youth Eco-Leadership Summit in Seoul, South Korea. He has been writing community reports about his initiatives for more than six years and hopes to continue raising awareness through his anti-smoking campaigns, tree plantation drives and waste management programs.
In 2014, Neola Castelino, a 12-year-old pupil in Dubai, started recycling. Many people told her that children start these projects, work on them on a temporary basis, but then lose hope because no one would take recycling seriously. But, she was determined to prove them wrong.
She said: “Initially, I was collecting only aluminium cans from my neighbourhood. Then, I visited a few restaurants and slowly my range grew. I now collect cans every day and in the past three years, I collected more than 1,000kg of them, which were handed over to the Emirates Environmental Group and Bee’ah.”
She has also collected more than 8,000kg of newspapers and magazines. Recycling these means saving more than 110 trees. Her mission didn’t end there as she progressed to plastic bottles, which were collected and dropped at the Bee’ah reverse vending machines in Sharjah.
She said: “I read a lot about how the Earth is becoming warmer, but very few people take measures to protect it. I want to do my best to protect the environment. All my recycling efforts conserve energy and the cost of extracting, refining and processing raw materials.”