Kehkashan Basu's Story

I was born on 5th June, World Environment Day, and thus feel that it was pre-ordained that I should be an eco-warrior. I live in Dubai, the city of gold, which is also a desert oasis, surrounded by some of the fiercest deserts of the world called the ‘Rub Al Khali’ or ‘The Empty Quarter.’ This desert is literally empty of all life, as nothing can survive in the fierce heat. I was stunned to learn in school one day that several thousand years ago this desert was a lush green oasis. But soil erosion and climatic changes turned it into an arid desert. I was eight years old then, and I asked my father what we should do to turn the desert green. My dad quoted Mark Twain to me, saying: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing, it was here first.” That’s when I understood that I must be the change and not leave it to others.

Thus began my green crusade, and for the last five years I have been working tirelessly to stop land degradation and promote sustainability. I realized early on that this battle for conservation cannot be won by one soldier, it requires an army. I started conducting workshops for children to raise awareness. I also wrote in newspapers, appeared on radio and TV, and used their influence to reach out to the youth and adults alike. I was fortunate to be chosen by several environmental organizations as their youth ambassador and this provided me a platform for spreading the green message. Music, poetry and art list amongst my passions, and I use them as mediums to convey my environmental views and mobilize youth.

In my opinion, planting a tree is the simplest and most effective way of combatting desertification. I plant a tree on every occasion – be it my birthday or Earth Day. So far, I have planted 63 saplings, spread over India, Indonesia, Kenya and Brazil. I regularly take part in cleanup drives, habitat conservation campaigns and work with organizations to save endangered species such as the Hawksbill Turtle.

I have been very fortunate to attend over 12 international conferences, foremost amongst them being Rio+20. I delivered eight presentations on sustainability in Rio, and the highlight of my Rio sojourn was the award I received from UNCCD for my essay and work on stopping land degradation. I firmly believe that all sections of civil society must be integrated in the cause of sustainable development. With this purpose in mind, I represented the Major Groups for Children and Youth at a ‘sustainability debate’ at a favela or slum called Morro da Babilonia in Rio de Janeiro. It was a truly fulfilling experience spreading the green message to the favela residents. During the course of the Earth Summit, I planted two saplings in the middle of RIOCENTRO, the venue of Rio+20 as part of the organization Plant-for-the-Planet that has a very simple and effective message: Stop Talking, Start Planting!

On my return to Dubai, I spent several weeks finalizing plans for an academy cum environmental workshop through which I could spread this simple but effective message of stopping land degradation. 22nd September was the day when I conducted my first academy in the UAE. It was attended by scores of children from schools across the country and the climax was the planting of 64 saplings in one day.

The work for achieving land degradation neutrality is well underway in my region and I obtain inspiration from Picasso’s quote “Action is the foundation key to all success”. So it is up to us to get the future we want.

Kehkashan Basu (12) Deira International School, Dubai

There are a lot of youth initiatives to help restore land. See what they are doing and get inspired to act yourself: