Kehkashan Basu, Founder and President, Green Hope Foundation, Canada
I was born on June 5, World Environment Day and thus, I’ve always felt that it was my life’s mission to make our planet safer, healthier, and more equitable for all. I grew up in a family where empathy for people and the planet was the norm. I accompanied my parents every weekend to distribute food and clothes to the less fortunate. My grandmother, to this day, has an organic terrace garden where she grows her own fruits and vegetables.
From a young age, I understood that it was my moral responsibility, as a citizen of this planet, to give back to the community and Mother Earth.
My bubble burst at the age of seven when I saw an image of a dead bird with its belly full of plastic. My 7-year-old brain went numb at the thought of the agony the bird must have endured. It was at this moment that I realized that something has gone very wrong with humanity to allow for that bird to die from consuming our plastics.
Around the same time, I attended a lecture from environmentalist Robert Swan. His words, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it,” prompted me to take my first individual action. I planted my first tree on my eighth birthday. There has been no looking back since then, and I have dedicated the last fourteen years of my life to creating a better world for all.
I have never let my age be a barrier in my journey – in fact, I always told anyone who doubted me that age has nothing to do with capability. At the age of twelve, I founded Green Hope Foundation to empower young people globally to take charge of their own destiny using education for sustainable development and ground-level actions.
Young people are often stereotyped as strikers and protestors – people who only blame the government and private sector for the world’s problems but never actually do anything themselves to change things. But we are more than people shouting in the streets – we are people taking our futures into our own hands.
At Green Hope Foundation, we provide youth with the skills to take action in their own zones of influence, and we have seen the benefits of this skills-based education turning into action firsthand. Our members now work across 26 countries and have directly impacted the lives of over 300,000 people globally. We have planted over 721,000 trees and over 8,000 mangroves. We have cleaned up over 866 beaches, and recycled over 3,300 tonnes of waste. Our young ambassadors go out in our solar-powered library mobiles every week and distribute books to children who were forced to drop out of school during the pandemic.
As responsible and concerned global citizens, we cannot continue distracting ourselves with rhetoric, thinking that by playing the blame game, we have done our bit and can give ourselves a pat on the back for every few decimal points shaved off from the emissions chart. As we must hold our parliamentarians accountable for creating just policies, we must hold ourselves individually accountable, too. Our individual actions — or inactions —impact carbonization. We need behavioral change, and it starts with each individual.
We must amplify grassroots experiences and personal insights and take action on the ground ourselves. In doing so, we shift our awareness of planetary degradation from an abstract phenomenon of carbon levels and future impacts to a more tangible, multi-layered intersectional issue of social, economic, and environmental struggles. This shift requires an intergenerational and intersectional effort; it cannot be a standalone, siloed campaign.
We must cumulate gender justice, racial justice, education, peace, and disarmament into a call for humanity and equity. This is one battle that we cannot afford to lose. Young people, with their fresh perspectives and lack of cynicism, must be at the forefront to ensure accountability and transparency.
Needless to mention, we have already fallen behind. Each day of procrastination will make our world’s challenges even more difficult to overcome, but with concerted efforts, based on a spirit of multilateralism, we can still reverse the tide. We, those who have had the privilege of getting an education, must use this shift towards driving change from the grassroots to act and create change in our own zones of influence. We can do this through passion, honesty, hard work, optimism, and, most importantly, empathy for people and the planet.
This is a collaboration between GEN-ZiNE and Driving Change.