People Choosing Peace: Kehkashan Basu (Canada)

Kehkashan is the founder of the Green Hope Foundation, youth ambassador on the World Future Council, United Nations Human Rights Champion, and winner of 2016 International Children's Peace Prize.

Our world today has more children than ever before, yet we continue to be one of the most marginalized and oppressed section of civil society. When I was eight years old and I founded Green Hope to provide a platform to engage, educate, and empower young people so that they could realize their rights. We believe in education for sustainable development and workshops and conferences called “Environment Academies” for school and university students to spread awareness about the environment and sustainability. So far, I have conducted over 100 academies and engaged more than 5000 students from over 100 institutions all over the world. I started Green Hope with a handful of friends and it now has over 1000 members and volunteers working in Canada, USA, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. We have planted over 11,000 trees, cleaned beaches, worked on species and habitat conservation, organized fund raisers to help the victims of floods and earthquakes, recycled several hundred tons of waste, engaged communities to adopt sustainable lifestyles and promoted the use of renewable energy. In my role as the voice of young person, I have traveled to over 20 countries speaking at over 75 United Nations and other forums, such as the World Bank, the European Parliament, Bonn Town hall, and youth festivals, campaigning for our right to a sustainable planet.

If we are to achieve sustainability then the world must also achieve peace. Peace is the basis of humanity and its absence is starkly evident in many parts of our world which are torn apart by violence and war, in which, sadly, children are the worst victims. The plight of Syrian refugees has been dominating news headlines for many months now. Every social media platform broadcasts haunting images of their sad plight, especially those of women and children, who inevitably suffer the most. Feeling sorry for them is no longer the solution and it is imperative that each and every member of civil society takes steps to alleviate their suffering as they have every right to a life of dignity like all of us.

I have always believed in turning words into action and recently decided to visit Syrian refugee children living in camps in Lebanon close to the border. We wanted this New Year to be very special for these children, and with the help of our members collected a large consignment of clothes, woolens, books, flasks and toys. A five-member Green Hope team flew to Lebanon in the first week of January with this consignment and visited camps housing the Syrian refugees. Over a two day period, we conducted six environmental workshops with each workshop targeting a specific age group. Several hundred children, ranging in age from seven to 18, attended our workshops. This was their first exposure to conservation issues and their enthusiasm was limitless. We discussed global warming, the impacts of climate change, the UN Environment’s “Beat Pollution” campaign , the need to go “plastic free” , how tree planting reduces the carbon footprint impact and the need to recycle and reuse so that they could reduce wastage in their camps and do “more with less”. Our workshops were extremely interactive and we used music, songs, art and quiz to communicate with the children. Each group painted their dreams of the future on white T-shirts that we gave them and their ideas and expressions were truly amazing. Since their camps are without electricity for most of the day, we also distributed solar rechargeable lamps which would enable them to study at night.

A dream of a peaceful, and sustainable, world can become a reality only if all sections of civil society, especially the marginalized sections, are involved and Green Hope will continue to reach out to them and empower them so that together we get “The Future We Want”.

See more about Kehkashan here.