As the founder of an ecological youth initiative, 19-year-old Kehkashan Basu has a network all over the globe.
On her eighth birthday, Kehkashan Basu planted her first tree. Four years later, in June 2012, she was one of the youngest international delegates at the UN summit conference Rio+20, where she spoke about sustainable development. It was after this experience that she set up the Green Hope Foundation. This has made Kehkashan a spokesperson for young people who are committed to sustainability, environmental protection and children’s rights, and are active in the struggle against climate change. “We won’t have any future at all if we don’t take our fate firmly in our own hands,” she says.
Kehkashan’s name comes from Persian and means “shining like a galaxy” or “Milky Way” (the first “h” is aspirated). Shortly before her eighth birthday, she saw an image of a dead bird on TV whose stomach was full of plastic waste. “That was when I knew I had to do something.”
Her parents are her role models. “They made me aware at an early age that I shouldn’t throw away any food and that I should save water and electricity.” Kehkashan also decided she had to reduce plastic consumption, so she started campaigning for her neighbors to stop buying products that used it. Some of them listened, while others refused. “Adults can be so cynical and patronizing. ‘You’re just a kid, why do you want to tell us what to do?’ I heard that quite a few times.”
She began to get her friends involved. “They understood how terrible it is that we are polluting our environment with plastic waste.” On Kehkashan’s initiative, the children in her Dubai neighborhood embarked on a campaign against plastic. And they were successful! A restaurant promised to renounce all use of plastic, and a cosmetics salon followed soon after. This was when the children realized that they could actually get things done.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) became aware of Kehkashan through its youth program “Tunza: Acting for a Better World.” In 2011, she was invited to the Tunza International Children & Youth Conference on the Environment in Bandung in Indonesia. “I spoke to thousands of other young people from all over the world about how we can help to preserve our environment. That was my first step on the international stage.”
There were many more steps after that. In 2012, Kehkashan flew to Rio de Janeiro to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20. There she spoke at a press conference about the struggle against desertification and severe droughts. Among all the heads of government and heads of state who were debating the future of the planet, she realized that an important segment of the population was almost completely absent. “We are the future."
The young activists call themselves eco-warriors. Their activities include local projects such as removing trash from streets, rivers and lakes, caring for the endangered habitats of animals and plants, going on excursions to get people better acquainted with the environment, organizing activities on social media, and planting trees, time and again. “Up to now, we’ve planted more than 15 000 trees across the world,” says Kehkashan. They campaign against land degradation, and advocate sustainable pro- duction methods and conscious consumption, using alternative energies and renouncing fossil fuels. These young people pass on their convictions about the environment to others in the course of workshops called “environment academies” that last from a few hours to a whole day. The Foundation’s guiding principles are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as defined by the UN.
Kehkashan lives in Toronto, but is in Dubai at least twice a year. Then she also has to attend meetings at international gatherings – because she’s not just the founder of Green Hope. Already back in 2013, she was elected for a 2-year term as UNEP’s Global Coordinator for Children & Youth. She is one of 22 Human Rights Champions who are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and she is a member of the World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council that wants to protect the seas.
She is also a youth ambassador for the World Future Council based in Hamburg, which sees itself as “the voice of future generations.” In March 2017, when she was 16, she spoke about climate change and the rights of children at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and in November of that year she spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 23 in Bonn. In 2016, she was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work, and in 2017 she received the National Energy Globe Award.
In September 2018, Kehkashan spoke on behalf of the World Future Council at the UN’s Conference on Disarmament, appeal- ing to the governments of the world to work toward a future without nuclear weapons. After her speech in New York, also in fall 2018, she attended the One Young World conference in The Hague – a meeting of young people with the potential to become future leaders. Then she spoke at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, and a little later in Helsinki at the HundrED Innovation Summit, where the hundred most inspiring innovations in education are presented and honored. The prize winners included Kehkashan Basu and Green Hope.
Kehkashan’s guiding principle is to work passionately for this planet of ours. “We have the right to decide our own fate,” she says. Time and again, she returns to what motivates her in her work. “If we don’t concern ourselves with the present, we will have no future. You’re never too young to achieve something.” She wants commitment from everyone, not indifference, whether young or old. We should always ask ourselves what impact our actions will have on this planet. “Every little step counts.”
Photos: Chris Thomaidis
The Green Hope Foundation was set up in 2012 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates by the then 12-year-old Kehkashan Basu. It is a youth organization that campaigns for sustainable development, responsible lifestyles, environmental protection, peace, gender equality and children’s rights. Today, Green Hope has over 1000 members and is active in twelve countries, including Canada, the USA, the United Arab Emirates, India, Suriname and Chile. It is financed by private donations.
This article was first published in LGT's client journal CREDO.