©KidsRights, photographer Marije Kuiper
It is with great pleasure that we introduce you to Kehkashan Basu, our first guest writer for Kindred Spirits. Kehkashan is the 2016 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work to protect the environment.
Our planet is a wonderful and vibrant kaleidoscope of species that have evolved over the ages. In the past, the process of natural selection has ensured that our biodiversity continues to flourish while maintaining a balance between the various forces of nature. Sustainability has been at the core of our being since the beginning of time, when the three pillars of environment, society and economy thrived in mutual harmony. However, over the past few decades, unbridled economic growth, uncontrolled depletion of resources in the name of progress, global conflicts and an exploding human population have combined into a deadly cocktail that is disturbing the natural balance of our planet and pushing us on an accelerated self-destruction path.
The global population has crossed 7 billion and the strain on natural resources is increasing by the day. Millions die of hunger while one-third of the world’s food production rots in warehouses or is lost in transit. The issue here is not, therefore, of resources but of utilization. This resource constraint is entirely man-made, and thus the onus lies on us to be more proactive and less self-centered. The well-being of humanity, the environment, and the functioning of the economy ultimately depend upon the responsible management of the planet’s natural resources. Evidence is building that people are consuming far more natural resources than what the planet can sustainably provide. Many of the Earth’s ecosystems are nearing critical tipping points of depletion or irreversible change, pushed by high population growth, wastage and overconsumption. By 2050, if current consumption and production patterns remain the same and with a rising population expected to reach 9.6 billion, we will need three planets to sustain our ways of living and consumption.
We are the last generation that has the opportunity of tackling and resolving these issues before it is too late. The children of today face a bleak future and risk inheriting a hot, barren planet unless they take actions to combat this. But most children are either unaware of these challenges or unsure of how to take action. Children need to be empowered, and the first step in this process is creating awareness about the environmental challenges that are threatening our well-being.
With this objective in mind I founded Green Hope on my return from the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, when I was 12 years old, as I realized that young people of our region did not have a platform through which they could learn about the environmental challenges and take actions to mitigate them. Our organization is run “by youth—for youth,” because we feel that the message is conveyed seamlessly when peers talk to each other. We organize and hold environmental academies, which are tailor-made workshops, varying from two-hour sessions to full-day events that target youth from across the country.
Participants learn to calculate their carbon footprint, identify ways to stop land degradation, and understand the concepts of sustainable consumption, climate change impacts, biodiversity conservation and the need for future justice. Since our inception, we have also been spreading awareness about the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.
I started Green Hope with just three of my friends, and in a short span of four years we have now grown to over 1,000 members working in 10 countries. At Green Hope we believe in the old saying: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” This philosophy is at the core of all our campaigns. We believe that we cannot be a responsible citizen of our planet if we live only for our own selves.
As I write this blog, I am reminded of a story my grandmother narrated to me long ago. She was explaining to me that our world is full of different cultures and ethnicities. Seeing the bewildered look on my 2-year-old face, she asked me to show her my hand. She spread my fingers palm outward and said each finger was differently sized but each was equally indispensable. All five fingers together made up a functional hand. The same applied to our planet. The five continents were the five fingers—each of varying size and strength. Individually, they were useless even to hold a pencil, but when connected they could perform amazing things. So it was with the world we live in; our strength lay in our diversity. Wars and conflicts decimate our fingers, leaving us mutated and incomplete.
Since then I have believed that my role as a global citizen should essentially be to live by the simple philosophy underlying my grandmother’s story about the human hand. Its symbolism of coexistence in harmony must be our mantra for the future. As a global citizen, I need to see myself in others—only then can I truly fulfill my role as a responsible resident of this planet.
Let us all learn from Khalil Gibran, who said:
“When I stood a clear mirror before you,
you gazed into me and saw your image.
Then you said, ‘I love you.’
But in truth you loved yourself in me.”
©KidsRights, photographer Rick Nederstigt
Kehkashan continues her advocacy with the KidsRights Youngsters, a unique youth-led advocacy and awareness-raising platform of the International Children’s Peace Prize winners that aims to realize children’s rights, as outlined in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Kindred Spirits community, here are some additional resources to help you empower our youth in making positive changes for our planet. We would love to hear about how your global citizens are creating a better world. Be sure to comment and/or contact Tricia or Jess.
Tricia Baldes earned a master’s in English from Lehman College and has been a middle level educator since 2001. Her passion for human rights education has led to her writing curriculum and consulting with nonprofit organizations like Creative Visions, Speak Truth to Power and KidsRights. She co-authored the Rock Your World curriculum and currently works with the team as a program coordinator. In addition to presenting at national conferences for NCTE and ACSD, Baldes has led various teacher trainings and programs for students. She teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.
Jess Burnquist earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time.com, NPR.org, and various online and print journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award. She teaches high school English, creative writing and AP Literature in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and is a program coordinator for Rock Your World. Her poetry chapbook You May Feel Your Way Past Me is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in spring 2017.
Kehkashan seems to be predestined to become an environmental activist as she was born on World
Environment Day. At the age of 8, she organized her first awareness-raising campaign for the recycling of waste in her neighborhood in Dubai.
In 2012, she founded her own organization, Green Hope, which runs waste-collection, beach-cleaning and awareness-raising campaigns on environmental protection. Through a series of activities and lectures, she has already shown thousands of school and university students how important it is to properly take care of the environment. Kehkashan has addressed various international conferences and Green Hope is now active in eleven countries with more than 1,000 young volunteers.