Eco-Heroes Take Action for Nature

Through their International Eco-Hero Awards scheme, Action For Nature is acknowledging the inspiring work of exceptional young people around the world.

When it comes to saving the planet, being young is certainly no obstacle. Evidence of this was brimming at the International Young Eco-Hero Awards – sponsored by Action for Nature – which honour young people aged 8 to 16, for their incredible conservation and educational initiatives.

2009 winners include Project Sprout. A student-run, organic, school garden, it was set up by 15 year-old Sam Levin and won first place in the 14 to 16 category. While supplying the school cafeteria with fresh fruit and vegetables, the garden also serves as a laboratory for the students.

“We knew that by growing vegetables for the cafeteria, we could improve kids’ health and give them the opportunity to taste delicious, fresh, organic food. We also knew, that by bringing classes down to the garden, we could connect kids to their food and to the natural world.”

In addition, at 3,500 square feet in size, the garden has yielded over 1,000 pounds of produce, so surplus was given to needy families in the area. Sam also raised funds for sheds and gardening tools and sought donations of materials and seeds.

The young horticulturalist has since inspired similar schemes elsewhere and his project has recently partnered with sister projects in Uganda and Senegal. This year, the garden will triple in size, with the addition of 37 fruit trees.

First place was also given to 15 year-old Otana Jakpor, whose concern for her mother – an asthma sufferer – inspired her to carry out some acclaimed scientific research. Learning that some air cleaners emitted high levels of ozone, Otana co-ordinated a batch of experiments to test the effects of indoor air purifiers on lung function, specifically concerning people with asthma or allergies.

Working with a donated ozone monitor, Otana measured emissions from air purifiers and other appliances, including a ‘personal device’ that her mother wore suspended from a cord around her neck.

The results revealed that some of the units did indeed emit dangerous levels. So, Otana submitted these results to the California Air Resources Board, wrote letters to the federal government and met with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington DC. Her findings compelled the state of California to ban the brands that were harmful and dramatically lower the ‘safe level’ limit on other models. The regulation, which took effect last year, was the first of its kind in America.

Otana’s achievement also won her a trip to Washington DC for the President’s Environmental Youth Awards – prizes that recognise ‘young leaders who are protecting the nation’s air, water, land, and ecology’. Otana is already working on her next science project: a study of waterborne pathogens in drinking water, that pose a direct risk to human health in the water supplies of developing nations.

The Young Eco-Hero Awards recognised the efforts of 12 year-old Cameron Oliver from Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The ambitious schoolboy won first place in the 8 to 13 category for his tireless campaign to protect camels. Cameron was appalled when he learnt that one in three are dying from eating plastic waste and litter left in the desert by humans.
“It mostly comes from campers and day-trippers to the desert, although the wind also blows in rubbish from the city,” said Cameron. Although litter is a real problem for everyone, for camels it is a serious issue. When they eat plastic, the material calcifies in their stomachs and forms a hard rock. With no appetite, they stop eating and just lie down and die.

In order to raise awareness about the animal’s plight and change how people view the desert – as some vast expanse where litter goes unnoticed – Cameron contacted various television channels, magazines and newspapers, while also creating T-shirts, car stickers and setting up an informative website. A focused and confident campaigner, he also stood before His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince and Supreme ruler of Abu Dhabi, to present his case.

“I want to get my message into malls and on those big billboards … I also want to get into more schools,” Cameron said, adding that he will not stop “until every single camel has been saved!”

Meanwhile, another 12 year-old first place winner, Adeline Tiffanie Suwana, from Indonesia, has been rallying fellow students together to protect and restore the natural world. One school holiday, Adeline invited 150 of her friends and co-ordinated the planting of mangrove trees ñ the species helps prevent damage from hurricanes and tsunamis. From this, she went on to establish a community, Sahabat Alam – Friends of Nature – and now, up to 200 students attend meetings and participate in environmental activities. The group, which now has around 1,700 members nationally, has been planting coral reefs, helping to breed fish, protecting turtles and planting trees in the Palau Pramuka area of Indonesia. Adeline has presented her case to schools and even worked with government agencies.

The youngest Eco-Hero award went to Erik Uebelacker who, at just seven years old, became a published author, as well as a ‘black belt’ in Tae Kwon-Do. When Erik discovered that butterflies taste with their feet, he wondered what would happen if they had to wear a pair of shoes. “They couldn’t taste anything!” he realised and this inspired him to write and illustrate his very own book – aptly entitled, Butterflies Shouldn’t Wear Shoes. When he presented it to his teachers as a gift, they loved it.

Stunningly illustrated and beautifully written, word about Erik’s book quickly spread and more had to be printed, which also promptly sold. “My kids love it,” one parent said. “They ask me to read it over and over. I can’t believe the author is only seven years old!” Erik, who is now eight, donated the book’s proceeds to the World Wildlife Fund – over 2,000 dollars.

Action For Nature is a nonprofit organisation, that encourages young people to take personal action and ensure a healthy environment, on which all life depends

Contact: Action For Nature,
2269 Chestnut Street,
#263 SanFrancisco,
California 94123, USA
Tel: +1 (415) 513 2421

Erik Uebelacker, book signing
at the Harford County Public Library
Photo: copyright