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It's an eco-friendly clarion call for all Abu Dhabi residents, stirring them to wake up and take responsibility for their city's sustainable progress. On October 13, Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, inaugurated the Green Abu Dhabi 2010 initiative at the Emirates Heritage Club, Abu Dhabi. The three-week long initiative, designed to educate residents about the environment is the brainchild of a long-time resident of the UAE, and young scion of the Jashanmal family, Suhail Jashanmal Jhangiani.

One morning as he was walking his dogs near a mangrove in the capital, he had an epiphany of sorts. He noticed filth and trash dumped in the mangroves (plants which he regards as possessing a timeless beauty and being the lungs of the city). "As I was walking by, I noticed a fire that had broken out there and the surprising thing was no one was doing anything about it. Even as I rushed in to put the fire out, passers-by stood watching the spectacle dispassionately."

The incident whipped up a strong sentiment in his heart to do something that would shake off the lethargy and inertia that had settled like fine dust on the conscience of every resident.

Jashanmal wants readers to know this is not just one among the many eco programmes that are launched and forgotten about and he has structured it in a manner so that it will involve many segments of society and have great potential as an annual event.

A businessman by choice and a creative artist by instinct, training and intent, he has used art as a vehicle of expression here.

Taking the leap

"Green Abu Dhabi 2010 is a three-week art show focusing on educating the community about the environment and sustainability.

It is a call to action and invites the entire UAE community to ‘paint the town green.' This can be as simple as switching off lights when they are not needed, to mobilising members of your immediate community to initiate wider programmes such as beach clean-ups. Green Abu Dhabi 2010 aims to become an annual community event working from the grassroots level with schools and right up to the highest level of decision makers. For the inaugural event, we have commissioned selected artists to focus on environmental aspects to bring to life messages that transcends cultural boundaries."

The reason Jashanmal chose art as a medium to convey the message of sustainability is because he himself by intent and instinct is an artist.

"I come from a business family and decided to buck the trend and graduate with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in painting with a minor in design. Design and business has always been a way to make ends meet for me, but this too has gradually interested me much more over time. One of the most important aspects of this initiative is the art show in which the community feels represented and enabled to positively change the environment in which they live," says Jashanmal.

Four established artists from Abu Dhabi have taken four topics - heritage, the environment, resources and the future to interpret the theme of eco sustainability.

Their artwork will be displayed at the Bateena Cultural Arts Centre and will later be auctioned, the proceeds of which will be donated to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a supporter of the Green Abu Dhabi project.

 

The origin of the idea

Jashanmal talks of what compelled him to pick up the environmental theme.

"I thought of eco sustainability since we are roughly 40 years into the federation of the UAE. Time plays a big part in how we relate to the place. ‘How long have you been here?' is probably the most important opening question in any new conversation. So if time is so easily understood by the public and I need to relate to them, how do I connect? Then, it struck me that if I took the public through time and viewed how our relationship with nature has changed over time, that would be very relevant and interesting.

"Using [the late] Shaikh Zayed's most famous quote as a paradigm: "He who does not know his past, cannot know his present and future", we gradually move from the distant past to the future, exploring each era through the eyes of young emerging artists representing Abu Dhabi. Each artist explores his or her own section in time, starting in the past, and ending in the future."

Jashanmal believes that an event of this sort is sorely required for the community to understand that they are the stakeholders in the country's sustainable growth. He quotes from facts and figures of the research that have gone into this project: "According to the WWF Living Planet 2008 report, UAE residents are still consuming more natural resources than anybody else on earth, ahead of the United States and Kuwait. As founder of Green Abu Dhabi and a local artist, I feel there is a dire need to stop polluting and start coming together as a nation to help conserve the environment.

"Abu Dhabi, and indeed the whole of the UAE, is an area of great international focus. It is now time to use this spotlight to take action in order to protect the country we live in. I want to work with the local community to really start making a difference. Green Abu Dhabi 2010 has been created to not only demonstrate and celebrate the wealth of cultural and artistic talent in the UAE, but also to show how important it is to protect the fundamental life force that has nurtured this sort of talent," says Jashanmal adding that while the event is focused on Abu Dhabi, it could inspire other emirates as well.

Beyond the larger passion for promoting his cause, he is acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with shouldering this initiative. "A good place to start is with myself," he says. "I have started picking up my own rubbish. Once I did that, then I convinced my friends to pick up their own rubbish, and now I'm trying to convince corporates to pick up their own rubbish. I want people to stop pointing fingers and start taking action. If you don't like the way it looks don't wait to blame someone; clean it up yourself. If you don't like the way it works don't wait for a miraculous change; change it yourself."

Catalysing a community

 

Events for Green Abu Dhabi have been designed in a way to sustain interest in environmental activities. People, Jashanmal says, need to feel enthused and empowered enough to take on the challenge year after year. Jashanmal illustrates his point with one mini event in the initiative, the "Mangrove Project".

"We keep one mangrove clean with the help of everyone's participation for an entire year and this will serve as a key message for this event, After this year, if the public is engaged enough with the project, and wants to expand it, then we will have more clean mangroves. It is really in the hands of the community, and it is really about making each individual person understand they are part of this community and that is our own responsibility if that mangrove is clean or not."

Another initiative involves schoolchildren who paint their idea of green on a single tile.

Over 9,000 tiles have been donated to the initiative by Ras Al Khaimah Ceramics and schools can buy them in single lots of 100 tiles each. Schools are being urged to buy more than one lot.

Each student will get one tile to paint on and at the end of the exercise, the best art work will be selected to be displayed as a mural that will be put up at a designated spot in the capital. It will be a paean to the city by the children of the city.

If you are excited about this initiative and wish to participate, log on to www.greenabudhabi.org to find out how you can contribute.