It all began 13 years ago when as a 7-year-old, I was stunned to see the image of a dead bird on TV, with its belly full of plastic. I still recall how numb I went, agonizing over the pain the bird must have felt choking on the plastics. I decided to do something about it and, as I looked around, I was aghast to see the amount of plastic that was so unobtrusively a part of our lives. Plastic was everywhere — in our homes, in school, on the streets, in shops, in overflowing litter cans — but people just did not “see” it, and even if they did, they did not care. It dawned on me that this lack of awareness, combined with apathy, were the two big things contributing to this problem. This prompted me to plant my first tree on my eighth birthday — which is coincidentally June 5, World Environment Day — and to begin my first campaign, a “no plastics” awareness program.
I visited neighborhood shops and beauty salons, conducted workshops in schools, and put up posters urging people to avoid plastic and stop littering. As word about my work spread, I was invited to speak at my first UN Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. This was my first step into the international arena and the following year, in 2012, I was invited to speak at the Earth Summit, also known as Rio+20, in Brazil. As a 12-year-old, I was the youngest international delegate to speak at a press conference. There were over 50,000 delegates at Rio+20, but only a handful of children like me. It was our future that was being decided, but not by us. I thought this grossly unfair and, on my return, I founded the Green Hope Foundation.
My objective was to provide a platform for young people like me; a way through which they could learn about sustainable development and then take actions to implement it. What began as a 12-year old’s dream eight years ago is now a multinational social innovation enterprise with chapters in 25 countries, making a difference in local communities. The two main issues that we address are the lack of inclusivity and the low level of awareness among young people, especially in developing nations, where they form a major part of the population.
Our mission is to empower all sectors of civil society, especially its young people — cutting across social, cultural, and economic barriers — in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and taking grassroots-level actions, as well as providing a platform that amplifies the voices of young people in policymaking. We use Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as a transformative tool to engage young people in the implementation of the SDGs. Through our unique “peer to peer” advocacy platform called “Environment Academy,” we have directly educated over 142,000 people in 25 countries, including Syrian refugees; children of prisoners in Nepal, India, and Kenya; Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong, which is also the world’s largest refugee camp; the homeless and the destitute; and victims of climate disasters in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Our goal is to empower those who are the farthest first – since they are the ones who are the most impacted by climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation. Ironically, they are the ones least responsible for it.
During COVID-19, we have witnessed further exacerbation of these inequalities. For the last 12 months, our teams have been working among desperately marginalized communities in rural Bangladesh, where we are improving peoples’ health by building toilets, providing clean water through rainwater harvesting and deep bore tube wells, teaching women and girls about sexual health, and supporting economic resilience through skills-based training on sustainable agriculture and poultry farming. Through these actions, we are building a local, circular economy that is the key to long-term recovery from the pandemic.
Similarly, in Liberia, our “Powering Education” project is bringing solar grid electricity to homes, community centers, and schools in the villages; providing safe spaces to girls, and supporting computer skills education to helping them move away from the vicious cycle of drugs and crime. We have also recently installed solar streetlights to provide more safe spaces for everyone.
Our advocacy and outreach is helping to bridge divides, both physical and digital, elevating those who the world seems to have forgotten. We do not protest on the streets and blame others – instead we take responsibility for the current state of affairs and drive change, using education as the catalytic tool in transformation for climate justice.
For more information about the Green Hope Foundation, please visit https://greenhopefoundation.com
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