Action For Nature is proud to announce our 2016 International Young Eco-Hero Awards, which recognize young people 8 to 16 years old for their environmental achievements. We hope the accomplishments of these outstanding young people will inspire many others to preserve and protect the Earth upon which all life depends.
Winners are divided into two groups, age 8-12 and 13-16.
Age Group 8 - 12
Franny and Rupert
Ages 9 and 12
British Columbia, Canada
Environmental Rights Activists
In 2014 Rupert and Franny learned that environmental rights, which gives people the right to clean water, clean air, healthy food and access to nature, had been formally recognized by over 110 countries, but their country, Canada was not one of them. Appalled, they sprang into action to implore their fellow Canadians to take up the cause. They have written letters, attended meetings and rallies, met with officials from all three levels of Canadian Government, given speeches, and encouraged other children to get involved. At a December 2014 rally by Rupert in front of Victoria City Hall, over one hundred supporters attended, including lots of children, resulting in the City of Victoria becoming the 10th city across Canada to issue an environmental rights declaration. Working with David Suzuki’s Blue Dot movement, Rupert and Franny have helped persuade over 23 municipalities on Vancouver Island and across the province to declare support for environmental rights. They are currently working on supporting Provincial and Federal Bills of Environmental Rights. The ultimate goal is to have environmental rights enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Besides being involved in the same activities as her brother, Franny is interested in art and activism. She drew a comic strip to explain environmental rights to her peers to get other children involved, and created a book. She is developing an art campaign to encourage people to “Plug into Nature.”
When they started, Rupert had never written a letter, and Franny was very shy, but they are learning a lot. Says Rupert: “I have learned that children have power even though they can’t vote. Everyone has the right to be listened to.” And Franny states: “I have learned how to find my voice and how to use it to make change; your age does not matter, you just have to decide what is important to you and do what you can.”
When Alfredo walked to school, he often saw a man who was homeless. He proposed his church buy sleeping mats, but these were too expensive. Wanting to find a way to alleviate issues of homelessness and one-use plastics that go into the landfill, Alfredo discovered that mats could be made from discarded plastic bags. He learned that the one trillion plastic bags that are used every year, take 1,000 years to degrade, clog up landfills and pollute the oceans when discarded. Learning that these could be made into plastic sleeping mats, Alfredo took it upon himself to design a low-cost, portable loom made from pieces of PVC. Usually the mats are crocheted, taking about 60 hours each, but with his loom a mat can be made in 6.5 hours.
Alfredo designed, built a loom, and has already woven sample mats. Currently he is working on spreading the word to fellow students, elementary schools, county fairs, and churches. He plans to keep promoting his loom and collecting more plastic bags which he will give to groups and encourage them to start weaving on looms that he will donate. He has already made arrangements for plastic bag collections with local grocery stores.
Alfredo is delighted that he is able to solve two seemingly unrelated problems with one step.
The Fishes Wishes
At four years old, Ryan noticed there was a lot of trash down at the beach and wanted to do something about it. He brought his own bag and began cleaning the beach up. As he continued to learn of the effects trash has on oceanic wildlife and the environment he decided to start The Fishes Wishes project where he makes magnets and ornaments out of driftwood and sells them at local craft shows. All his funds are donated to the Ocean Conservancy. In addition, he has organized four clean ups with his friends and family. So far, he has donated over $4,000 to the Ocean Conservancy, and has a goal to raise $10,000.
When commenting about how his project has changed him, Ryan said, “If I didn’t start The Fishes Wishes, I wouldn’t have known how great it feels to help, and I love that feeling.”
Saving Cheetahs One Collar at a Time
Joris loves cheetahs, and since the age of 6 years old, he has been raising funds to support a wildlife sanctuary’s conservation efforts in Namibia, Africa, called N/a'an ku sê. He has raised money through lemonade stands, flower sales, a t-shirt and online campaign, and roller-skate rink events. The money Joris raises goes towards the purchase of GPS collars for cheetahs.
These collars track cheetahs in the wild and send updates to nearby farmers who, fearing that the cheetahs might endanger their livestock, might shoot them. Knowing where the predators are gives farmers the means and the responsibility to keep their flock safe. In total, Joris has raised over $7,000 for N/a'an ku sê. Recently, Joris had the good fortune to volunteer at the wildlife sanctuary. He cleaned enclosures, prepared food and fed the animals, and helped set camera traps and track animals. To his delight the sanctuary named a baby cheetah after him.
Reducing School Traffic and Pollution
When one of Himangi’s classmates lost her life due to a road accident in front of her school, Himangi was inspired to find a solution to regulate traffic and reduce overall pollution. Her friend was not the only student who had been killed. Himangi started a campaign, “Fall in Love with Cycling” to motivate students to bike to school in an area where few schools are doing this.
With permission from the school principal, Himangi documented the traffic chaos in front of the school. She determined this was partially caused by everyone rushing out into the street at the same time, and by rickshaws and parents being parked right in front. After regulating the flow of students, asking rickshaws and parents to wait some distance from the entrances, and encouraging people to cycle, Himangi was able to address the traffic chaos. So far, there has been a big reduction in traffic, a reduction in accidents, reduction of greenhouse gasses, and a decrease in noise and exhaust pollution, Also, four more schools are taking action to implement a similar campaign.
Himangi’s future goals includes continuing her project and becoming a Green Ambassador. Looking back on her accomplishments so far, she comments, “Do not wait till things happen for you, go and make things happen. People will say that it is crazy or impossible what you are about to do but give a start and you will see that many people are there willing to help you. Believe in yourself.”
Age Group 13 - 16
North Carolina, USA
Inventor of Low-Cost Semiconductor for Efficient Breakdown of Water Pollution
After doing extensive research, Joshua invented a novel, affordable material that, with just sunlight, detoxifies common water pollutants more efficiently than commercial and EPA-endorsed remediation methods. His material, he suggests, presents clean, low-cost technology to address worsening pollution issues today. He recalls not expecting to have any role in a deteriorating environment. After reading Life on the Brink, a compilation of environmental papers written by professionals and activists, his mindset changed. He began to understand the severity and relevance of environmental issues, along with his role—to do something and be a part of the solution.
He has been honored with prestigious awards, including the 2015 EPA Sustainability Award. Joshua has been involved in school and community action and outreach activities and has served on boards to bring about general awareness and change. As more people understood the importance of sustainability, Joshua found for many, the personal sacrifice to live sustainably – less A/C, less driving, and more chores to recycle and compost – did not match their expectations of comfortable living. His vision for sustainable living comes through sustainable technologies, and would also involve making it easier and even unconscious. This is where his research started. After creating his semiconductor, he has conducted outreach and awareness of sustainability, specifically discussing what youth can do to make a difference. “By empowering today’s youth to commit to environmental initiatives and action in their local areas,” he says, “or even on a personal level, we can conserve and protect the Earth.”
Through this experience he has changed from being a bystander to a community leader for environmental change. He hopes to be on the frontier of the sustainable technology field through community involvement. He sees sustainable technologies helping fuel the future of sustainable living.
Olivia’s home was destroyed in a flood in 2009 and her family lost everything. During that terrible tragedy her family was offered much kindness and support. Olivia wanted to give back.
After relocating to Florida, Olivia was inspired to do something active to protect the environment, live more responsibly on a local level, raise awareness for issues on a national level, and give back globally. To meet all these goals, Olivia created her own non-profit called Save the Earth Projects (S.T.E.P). One of her projects through STEP is ‘Leave a GOOD Footprint,’ where she arranges for the collection of gently used shoes from around the USA and UK. An international group then purchases and re-distributes the shoes to children in underdeveloped countries. Hundreds of thousands of children walk without shoes, explains Olivia, and may die from parasites and diseases that enter cuts in their feet. Redistributing shoes simultaneously reduces waste in landfills, raises funds for local organizations and school programs, provides shoes to those in need, and helps build economies globally because people need shoes for work and school. After three years and an initial goal of 100 shoes, Olivia and STEP have collected and re-distributed over 22,000 pairs of shoes.
Planting Indigenous Trees
Simon is a passionate boy who initiated growing and planting indigenous trees and distributing free tree seedlings after noticing his community was planting exotic and faster growing non-native trees in 2013.
What began as a small school project turned into a continuing environmental awareness campaign educating fellow students and the public of the importance of growing indigenous tree seedlings and conserving threatened tree species. Simon has visited administrative offices along with churches and villages to spread the importance of his work and validate the need for indigenous trees.
As a result, Simon has already seen an impact: his community is growing more aware and has reduced the uprooting of indigenous trees. So far over 25,000 seedlings have been bought from Simon’s tree nursery. Additionally, because of the increase of indigenous trees, there has been an increase of tree bats, butterflies, and birds. As a lifelong endeavor and project, Simon’s long term goal is to plant over two million indigenous trees.
British Columbia, Canada
Environmental Lesson Plans and Films
Miranda is an environmental filmmaker and public speaker, bubbling with ideas, a love of nature, and the desire to take action. Her films have garnered local, national and international awards over several years. They have been screened around the globe – from Toronto and Vancouver to Los Angeles and Brazil. One of her films has had 14,000 viewings and another one nearly 10,000.
Miranda’s new Web site, which has already received great feedback, combines lesson plans on environmental topics which she has designed to be used by teachers with her films. “People can only care about what they know,” believes Miranda, and she hopes to educate and inspire viewers through the Web site. With her Web site as a platform to expand her reach into classrooms, and a tool to be used in conjunction with the screening of films she’s made over the years, Miranda hopes to make it easier for educators to get youth connected to the environment and contribute to developing a future generation of environmental stewards
Say NO to Used Cooking Oil!
In her community Shirley observed street vendors selling food cooked in the same oil all day, which she knows is unhealthy for humans. “We have to say "NO" to used cooking oil,” she tells people. ”We should not use cooking oil repetitively. Not more than 3 times.” The cooking oil looked horrible, rather like porridge. But, disposing used cooking oil is also bad for the environment.
So Shirley became involved with Green Team Indonesia and learned how biodiesel could be developed from used cooking oil and converted into a useful product - soap. She started cooking oil collection points in people’s homes and learned how to make the soap which she gives to students in need. The soap is used to clean hands, and wash clothes and dishes. It is not to be used to clean human bodies, she warns.
Her next steps are to include more people and educate young people about the environment. “When the environment is healthy, we are healthy too,” she says.
Environmental Awareness through Education
When Abdulrahman, an observant and motivated youth, noticed a lot of trash in his hometown of Erbil which is in Kurdistan, a region of Iraq, he decided to take action. Since a child, Abdulrahman has loved nature. When he found out it was being threatened with trash and neglect as a result of people’s carelessness and ignorance, he began to create seminars for his school about environmental issues to raise awareness for his generation. He talked so much about it, he became known as “Mr. Global Warming.”
After successfully educating fellow students and government officials on some important environmental issues, Abdulrahman got students involved with taking action through cleaning the school and surrounding neighborhoods and spreading awareness on social media and his own blog. He and his fellow students set up a blog. He gathered up nearly 1000 papers, many of which were recycled into new usable paper.
Abdulrahman is excited to turn his latest workshop ideas of linking social and environmental issues into solutions. His goal is to one day have the cleanest city and school. He finds that with hard work and passion, change is possible. “I have learned to believe in our abilities as teenagers,” he says.
Disaster Relief through Recycling
Eric has co-founded, and is now president of a non-profit called We Care Act that provides disaster relief funds through collecting such items as used clothes, books, toys and refurbished computers. Since the non-profit’s start in 2008, Eric and his family have involved more than 36,000 people in 20 countries and supported over 46,000 people in need, including children in orphanages, rural villagers, and victims of 13 natural disasters in the USA, Nicaragua, Nepal, Japan, Haiti, the Philippines, Southern Sudan, and China.
We Care Act has raised in kind donations estimated at $250,000 and collected and delivered items of used clothes, stuffed animals, books, basketballs, and refurbished computers, to people in disaster areas. They have gathered comforting letters and organized educational and service learning workshops in multiple cities in China.
Eric is passionate about e-cylcing, an issue that will become a very big problem. He collects and refurbishes computers, and trains students locally and in other cities/states in setting up electronics recycling and computer refurbishing programs. His goal is to provide refurbished devices and to set up computer labs for rural villages, orphanages, and other schools throughout the world in order to support children’s access to technology and education. Last year he visited a poor village in Nicaragua where he delivered refurbished laptops and taught local children how to use them. His team also delivered computers to village schools in Nepal and South Sudan for the children to see and use computers the first time.
New York, USA
Silas is very passionate about his back yard, the Adirondack Park — 6 million acres of protected wilderness in upstate New York. “The Adirondacks are such an integral part of me, of anyone that has grown up here, and I hope to preserve the planet so that the person that grows up in my town at any point in the future can have the same experiences as I have,” says Silas.
So Silas has become a leader of the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit and is an organizer of this youth conference (in its seventh year) to bring together 250 students from the Adirondack communities and students across the country. He is a public speaker on the subject of climate change, has written a guest commentary for his local newspaper, brought new knowledge and presentations from Al Gore’s Climate Reality training, organized a Pro Snow letter, pushed his town to be the first on the East Coast to send their name to the COP 21 on that letter, campaigned against single use plastic bags, and is spreading environmental awareness in his school by creating a plan of action to offset his school’s carbon footprint.
His ultimate goal is to get people talking and doing, "because future generations deserve to live in an environment unaltered by climate change.” He loves all his environmental projects and wants to continue to lead in his community, using resources he’s collected as a platform to educate others.
It all started in 2011, when Sonali’s parents gave her $100 to use to make a difference in someone’s life. Through research she discovered that not only could she “make children smile,” but she could raise additional funds through a recycling program that cleaned up the environment.
In 2012 Sonali founded Recycling4Smiles, an organization that collects discarded bottles and cans. The money received for these items through a program offered in California is then donated to the Smile Train organization which provides cleft lip and palate surgery for children in need around the globe. So far, her organization has raised and donated over $57,000 by redeeming thousands of pounds of cans and bottles. These donations have covered 57 cleft lip surgeries as well as dental care for over 1,500 children in rural Sri Lanka.
Last year Sonali gave a talk about her organization at the International Girl’s Day event in 2015 where she reached out to middle school girls to also make a difference. This year she was an invited panel member at IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference’s Next Generation Track to talk about making a difference in this world as a high school student.