With great pleasure Action For Nature announces its 2009 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.
Ages 8 to 13
Cameron Oliver, First Place, Age 12, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Save the Camel Campaign
Cameron loves all animals, whether they are domesticated or wild. He was dismayed to find that wild and domestic camels were eating plastic litter, and that this plastic kills many of them.
He believes that the camels in the Middle East are part of the world’s heritage. To make people aware of what littering and plastic bags were doing to camels, he decided to use various media (TV, magazines, and newspapers), and also gave presentations, including one to His Highness Khalid Bin Zayed Al Nayan, Crown Prince and Supreme ruler of Abu Dhabi.
“I want to stop this,” he said,” as I want my children to see live camels and not read about them in books. It’s got to stop!”
To help further his goal to save the camels and other wildlife, Cameron created T-shirts, bumper stickers, and a Web site, www.cameronscamelcampaign.com.
Cameron expects that it will take years to change people’s attitudes and habits, but he said, “This campaign will not stop, unless the camels stop dying.”
Adeline Tiffanie Suwana, First Place, Age 12, Kelapa Gading Permai, Indonesia
Adeline Tiffanie Suwana has a deep concern about the natural disasters in her country caused by flooding and wants to encourage all children in Indonesia to love and care about their environment. So during a school holiday, she gathered about 150 friends and classmates and after instructing them about the importance of mangroves, which help prevent damage from hurricanes and tsunamis, organized the planting of mangroves.
Since that first event, she has gathered more and more students together to tackle various environmental issues. Adeline invited her friends and other children throughout Indonesia to form a community of young people called SAHABAT ALAM, which means “friends of nature.” Now up to 200 students show up for each environmental activity and there are about 1,700 members in the club throughout Indonesia.
In the Palau Pramuka area of Indonesia, Adeline organized students to plant coral reefs, because the reefs surrounding their island are damaged. She gathered students to help with fish breeding, turtle protection, and tree planting. Adeline also joined an environmental cleanup after flooding from a dam collapse resulted in many deaths.
Because Adeline is very concerned that the way people live isn’t friendly to the environment, she has presented her ideas to schools, cooperated with government agencies, created a Web site, sahabat-alam.com, and is producing a TV program. She also has recorded a song in English and Indonesian as a means of encouraging people to conserve the earth.
Adeline continues to be a role model for how young people can show their appreciation for nature by organizing environmental actions to preserve the earth.
Erik Uebelacker, First Place, Age 8, Maryland , U.S.A.
A Book for Butterflies
Erik first learned that butterflies taste with their feet in his second grade science class. “I thought it was a cool fact,” he said. “Then I thought about what would happen if butterflies wore shoes. They couldn’t taste anything!” So he decided to write and illustrate a book about what would happen if butterflies wore shoes. His mom helped him with some of the drawings and helped him put the book together.
Erik wrote the book, Butterflies Shouldn’t Wear Shoes, in May 2008 and gave the book to his teachers as a gift. They requested more copies, as did other people also, so he and his mother decided to get some books printed and sell them. He decided to donate the money he made to the World Wildlife Fund. Erik sold the books door-to-door, had a book signing and sale at a children’s boutique in his town, and promoted the book on TV.
On October 2008, he and his family went to the World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington, D.C., with a check for $2,000, the money he raised from the sale of Butterflies Shouldn’t Wear Shoes.
Erik and his mom are still trying to get the book published by a real publisher so that it can be sold in bookstores nationwide with the proceeds being donated to World Wildlife Fund. Erik has a Web site to help him sell books at www.ButterfliesShouldntWearShoes.com. Erik loves animals and wants to help them, particularly the endangered ones.
Max Kesselman, Honorable Mention, Age 10, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Birthday Cleanup Bash
Max Kesselman was disturbed by the amount of trash on the roads and in the local parks in his community. He wrote letters to his township to see if they could help. He decided that for his 8th birthday he was going to spend the day cleaning up the parks. Max created Max’s Mission and also a Web site, www.maxsmission.com, to spread the word. He invited all of his friends to help, and they spent many hours picking up trash at a local park, collecting more than 20 bags of trash.
Starting in 2005, Max’s Mission has been repeated every year on his birthday and at other times. Last year, there were over 90 children and adults who collected trash over a much larger area. To help with the cleanup, the township closed the roads and the police helped. In the last four years more than two tons of trash has been picked up on Max’s birthday.
“The goal of my project is to clean the earth and to get more kids my age to think about the importance of keeping it clean,” Max said. He intends to make this an annual event in his town and to spread the event to other schools and towns.
Kevin Huo, Honorable Mention, Age 10, California, U.S.A.
Bus Art for Nature
Kevin draws, paints, and writes to promote environmental activism. He also volunteers with his family to clean trails in local parks.
Kevin entered the SamTrans “Art Takes A Bus Ride” competition in San Mateo, CA, because he wanted to encourage people to take the bus and help save the world.
“I had to get my message out to everyone so they’d understand that this earth is getting sick,” he said. “I want everyone to understand that they should ride the bus and lower their carbon footprint.” Kevin won the grand prize, and his art work is scaled up and wrapped around the Go Green Go Sam Trans bus as mobile, sustainable public art that depicts windmills and solar panels as a backdrop for a line of smiling bus passengers.
Kevin knows that one bus can take 45 cars off the road. He hopes that people will look at his art and be inspired to take the bus and help the planet.
Samantha Muscarella, Honorable Mention, Age 10, New York, U.S.A.
Clean Up and Recycling Programs
Samantha Muscarella has wanted to save the world since she was five. Samantha has never liked litter and wants to make a difference in the lives of people. “Seeing garbage at the park and graffiti on the equipment,” she said, “inspired me to change it.”
Samantha began by writing to the parks department in her town, asking if they could give her supplies for a Clean the Park day. Then she created and put up fliers announcing the clean up. For the past three years she has joined neighbors, friends, and town officials to rake, pick up garbage, and show community spirit. Samantha and others will continue the Clean the Park project for many years.
Samantha also started a recycling program at her school. She talked to district administrators and her principal and wrote to a company, Simply Green Solutions. The company donated enough reusable bags to start the first recycling project at her school, which is now ongoing.
Samantha’s goal is to make people aware of their neighborhood and take pride in it by recycling and cleaning litter. Her next project is to involve the community to help improve the environment by planting trees for cleaner air and reducing global warming. To date, she has donated trees to her school and planted them with the help of her Girl Scout troop; she also donated six trees to the town.
Ages 14 to 16
Otana Jakpor, First Place, Age 15, California, U.S.A.
Air Purifiers and Pollution
Otana Jakpor’s mother suffered from severe asthma problems. In a news article in Consumer Reports magazine, Otana was surprised to read that some air cleaners emitted high amounts of ozone, which is very harmful to breathing.
To find out if air purifiers polluted indoor air, Otana studied the problem. “I designed, coordinated, and implemented eight experiments over two years to test my hypothesis that ozone-generating air purifiers and other ozone-generating household devices would have a negative effect on pulmonary function, especially in people with asthma and allergies,” she said.
Otana recruited volunteer human subjects and used borrowed scientific instruments to test assorted air purifiers. She discovered that some of the air purifiers produced 15 times more ozone than is produced in a Stage 3 smog alert.
She then submitted a paper about the results to the California Air Resources Board and testified at a public hearing before the board. Later Otana wrote letters to the federal government and met with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., including former EPA director Stephen Johnson. Her outreach has included becoming a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, and she has spoken to hundreds of school students and at environmental conferences.
On May 14, 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives gave a tribute to Otana in honor of her scientific endeavors. Her findings influenced the California Air Resources Board in adopting a regulation that limits ozone emissions from air purifiers to less than 0.050 parts per million, making California the first state in the nation to regulate ozone generators.
Besides continuing her work with both indoor and outdoor pollution, Otana is now also doing research on water pollution and scarcity. In the future, Otana plans to become a physician and is interested in both research and clinical work.
Sam Levin, First Place, Age 15, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
High School Food Garden
When Sam Levin saw the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” he conceived of the idea of creating a school food garden as a way to help save the world. He named his idea “Project Sprout” and with the help of two other students co-founded an organic, student-run garden on the grounds of his high school.
For two years, Project Sprout has supplied the school’s cafeteria with fresh fruits and vegetables. The garden serves as a laboratory for public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The garden, 3,500 square feet in size, also yielded over 1,000 pounds of produce to give to needy families in the region. To achieve his goal, Sam raised money for sheds and tools, and he sought donations of materials and seeds.
“I decided to start a garden at my public school,” Sam said. “We knew that by growing the vegetables for the cafeteria, we could improve kids’ health, and give them the opportunity to taste delicious fresh, organic food on a regular basis. We also knew that by bringing classes down to the garden, we could connect kids to their food, and, in turn, to the natural world.” Sam believes that his school is “…the first public high school in the country whose students grow the produce for its lunches.”
In September 2008, Sam spoke about Project Sprout at the Slow Food Nation conference in San Francisco. He has also inspired three schools in Martha’s Vineyard to form a group and start a garden. His organization has partnered with a sister project in Uganda and Senegal, where they also grow their own food.
This year, the garden will triple in size and become a 11,000 square foot farm. They will be putting in 37 fruit trees, as well as many other plants.
Apoorva Rangan, Age 14, California, U.S.A., First Place and
Adarsha Shivakumar, Age 15, California, U.S.A.
Biofuel for India
Adarsha and Apoorva, a brother and sister team who live in California, spent their summers with their grandparents in a small village in India.
Quite a few of the villagers in this region grow tobacco for a living, as it is one of the few crops that can generate income. However, in order to process tobacco, the leaves of the plant must first be cured in barns. The farmers accomplish this by burning large quantities of firewood in kilns. This generates huge amounts of pollution. The farmers have little firewood on their small plots of land, so they turn to the agents who illegally sell them firewood by cutting down trees from the local Nagarahole National Park, a large and pristine wildlife sanctuary which is also a home to a large variety of wildlife, including Asian elephant and tiger.
As a result of what they witnessed, Adarsha and Apoorva launched Project Jatropha with the assistance of two collaborators in India: an organization that helps farmers and a plant biotechnology company that specializes in Jatropha curcas. This drought resistant plant, native to Central America, can grow in an arid environment and produces seeds that are about 34% oil that can be processed to create high grade fuel.
In the first stage of their project, they used the money that Adarsha won as a cash reward for winning a California state spelling bee championship. They used this money to buy 1,000 Jatropha seedlings and distributed these to five farmer leaders. To convince more farmers of the viability of this biofuel source, they took several farmers to experimental farms to see the plantings, to learn how to grow seedlings, and to see how to extract oil from the seeds.
The farmers were also given a sample of the oil to burn as fuel. The farmers liked what they saw. “Smoke emission is less compared to regular diesel,” one said. “The exhaust smells pleasant. The pump ran smoothly and efficiently.”
In the second stage of their project, more than 30 self-help group members have planted over 12,000 seedlings. After maturing, these seedlings are estimated to produce about 2,700 gallons of biofuel. Adarsha and Apoorva say that they will continue to spread the project throughout India and the world. They will not stop until they help all the people they can with the project.
Clay McMullen, Second Place, Age 14, Ohio, U.S.A.
Wetlands Education Team (WET)
Clay McMullen grew up loving the constant sound of Spring Peepers, little frogs that live in small natural vernal pools surrounding his town. Clay has always been interested in science and the ecology of the vernal pools, which are seasonal, temporary pools of water. He was aware that Ohio has lost many of these pools, the primary breeding, feeding, and resting grounds of amphibians, including Spring Peepers, as well as birds such as the endangered osprey. These wetlands are also important for a sound ecology and human health because they help support groundwater and well water, reduce flooding, and purify water.
After extensive reading and research, Clay organized the Wetlands Education Team (WET). “I think all students should spend time doing things they care a lot about,” he said. “You’ll be surprised at the impact you can make and you will feel really good about it, too.”
WET helped create a 1.25-acre wetland and teaches students and property owners about the importance and protection of wetlands. WET also creates birdhouses and osprey nesting platforms for the wetlands, because the trees that the birds have relied on have been cut down.
Clay has talked to many groups, including the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He has helped train adults to monitor vernal pools. He and his team use scientific tools to input data onto the Vernal Pool Partnership Web site, and have worked with community and governmental organizations, as well as with the local boards of education, to create outdoor classrooms for students. To support these programs, Clay has obtained extensive funds through donations, awards, and grants.
“Many people think that preserving wet lands is a job that can wait,” Clay said, “so they need to be reminded that climate change, water quality problems, and flooding are not going to wait for them.”
Dakota Palacio, Second Place, Age 15, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Youth-driven Conservation and Community Service
Dakota Palacio has been concerned about the environment and the people around her from an early age. In 2006, when Dakota was thirteen, she founded the Beholdance organization and created a Web site, www.beholdance.org, that endeavors to “…engender love and protection for our animals, people, and planet in the minds and hearts of our youth, because ultimately the planet belongs to those who are coming and we are simply responsible for its care on their behalf.”
Beholdance combines ecological and social interests. The organization has supported saving the amazing white beluga whales, saving White Kermode spirit bears and polar bears, and working to end the shooting of wolves from airplanes. Beholdance, which has developed three member organizations, also adopts highways for cleaning and collects aluminum cans for sale. Proceeds from the cans help sponsor cleft lip surgeries through Smile Train, an organization that provides reconstructive surgery for poor people around the world. It also has other projects and fund-raising events to collect money to feed the pets of the poor, to contribute to habitat for humanity, and to support a local meals-on-wheels program.
Dakota plans to continue to play an active role in conservation and environmental education. She would like to see Beholdance expand and become a leading youth conservation and community service organization. “I would like to continue to help others speak up and reach out for what they believe in because I believe together we can do anything.”
Chitranshu Tewari, Second Place, Age 15, Bihar, India
In December 2003, Chitranshu Tewari read that the Honourable Supreme Court of India directed educational institutions to add Environmental Education as a compulsory subject in the schools. He said: “From there I got a feeling somewhere in my heart to do something for our mother earth who lends herself to us as a smiling mother.”
In 2005, Chitranshu started Green Brigade to help students realize that it’s incumbent on them to save the environment and to make people aware of the precarious situation of the planet’s environment. His goal was to inspire, motivate, and convince other students to be agents of change by adopting healthy ecological habits.
Green Brigade is a student eco-club aimed at helping students develop a green thumb and encouraging people to take concrete action to protect the environment. The movement, which he and his friends conceived, has now grown to include students from several schools. Success for the Green Brigades means that today every school in the state of Patna has an eco-club and, as the clubs spread to other states, Chitranshu is working to establish the organization in other Asian countries. Chitranshu has also developed a website for Green Brigade that aims to develop a green thumb in students across the globe and encourage people to take action with suggestions on ways to go green.
Matthew Erickson, Honorable Mention, Age 16, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Energy-saving Light Bulb Project
After seeing Al Gore’s Oscar winning film “An Inconvenient Truth,” Matthew Erickson wanted to help save the environment and to inspire others to do the same. He founded the project HelpLightNJ and created the Web site, www.helplightnj.com, to raise money for energy-saving light bulbs that he could distribute free to senior citizens and needy families.
HelpLightNJ raised the money to buy about 1,000 light bulbs, which were distributed at a food pantry and at several senior centers. Then the group applied for a grant with the New Jersey Clean Energy Program and was awarded enough money to distribute another 60,000 energy-saving light bulbs.
Matthew and his friends went to the light bulb manufacturer and packed six light bulbs per bag for each gift. The factory shipped the packed bulbs to the chosen distribution points. Before passing out the bulbs at each place, Matthew and his friends explained how the bulbs worked, why they were important, and how to recycle them.
The project has been so successful that the state asked project HelpLightNJ to apply for a larger grant in 2009. The group hopes to distribute 120,000 bulbs and have already contacted high schools across the state to join and help package and distribute the bulbs.
HelpLightNJ is an important energy saving project that Matthew plans to continue into his college years.
Brenda Mejane, Honorable Mention, Age 14, Buea, Cameroon
Keep Buea Clean
Disturbed by the quantity of litter that was left at the Buea Municipal Grand Stand after events, Brenda Mejane decided “to do something to make the place look clean and beautiful.” Her goal was to rid the area of all litter after big events and, “… to call to the attention of the municipal authorities that cleanliness is important, and should be considered as such, and to raise general public awareness about environmental and sanitation issues.”
After events such as the celebration of the National Day and National Youth Day, Brenda brought together some of her school’s environmental club members and other supportive students. They collected all the litter and took it to the dump. “We intend carrying out this activity every time we think this area needs attention,” she said, “until the municipal authorities decide to do something about cleaning this public place.”
“I raised awareness because many people became curious and came around to see what was going on,” Brenda said. “The radio even talked about the activity and some members of the general public joined us. Our school club was visited by the mayor who promised us support in terms of materials like wheelbarrows and brooms the next time we want to carry out such a campaign.”
Brenda says she learned that you do not need to have a lot of money to do something good for your community.
Ryan Morgan, Honorable Mention, Age 16, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Like many others, Ryan Morgan was inspired by Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” He realized that one person, even a teenager, can make a difference in the world. For his part, Ryan created Project Greenlight and raised funds to purchase energy-efficient light bulbs and distribute them for free to people in his community.
Ryan first secured the support of his school and his principal, and then wrote more than 100 letters to businesses to solicit donations. He obtained materials from companies and individuals, as well as valuable autographed celebrity photos from people such as Al Gore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Bruce Springsteen for a raffle at an event held to raise more funds. Between corporate donations, gifts, and raffle proceeds, plus a donation of 900CFL bulbs, he had enough bulbs to begin his distribution.
Ryan’s Project Greenlight has donated more than 1,500 bulbs and he plans to continue the effort. His Web site, www.projectgreenlight.org, has more information about his future plans. In addition to starting Project Greenlight, Ryan also started his school’s recycling program and continues educating fellow students and the community about the importance of taking care of the environment.
Max Ozimek, Honorable Mention, Age 14, Ohio, U.S.A.
Solar Ovens for Uganda
Two important events happened to 13-year-old Max Ozimek. He learned how to make and use simple solar ovens in a school science project, and he met Chaplain Fr. Alexander Inke from Uganda while working as a Hospice Volunteer. Max learned that Father Alexander’s mother, who lived in the Uganda town of Obia-Zeu, had to walk very far every day to find wood for cooking food and boiling drinking water for her grandchildren. The grandchildren’s parents had died partly due to drinking impure water. Max learned that solar cooking eliminated the need to walk miles to collect firewood, saved the trees in the forests, and was more affordable.
Inspired, Max decided to go to Uganda and help teach people how to build solar ovens and use them to cook food and purify water. He collected information and advice from Karyn Ellis of www.solarcookers.org, and started a letter-writing campaign to explain his project and raise money. Max wanted people to be able to cook even when the sun was not shining, so he decided on an integrated system of solar ovens, fuel-efficient rocket stoves, and heat-retaining hay baskets.
In Uganda, with the help of Father Alexander, Karyn Ellis, and others, Max spent five days in a workshop teaching the men and women of the village how to make and use solar cookers. During this time, 60 solar cookers were made, and 10 fuel-efficient stoves and 15 hay baskets were distributed. Now 20 people of the Obia Solar Cooking Association are committed to teaching others how to make and use the Integrated Solar Project. There is more information on Max’s project on the Web site, solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Max_Ozimek.
Max is staying in contact with the village and continues to provide support and encouragement. He is looking forward to working on this and related projects, such as water purification, for years to come.
Sean Russell, Honorable Mention, Age 16, Florida, U.S.A.
Saving Marine Life from Fishing Lines
Sean Russell had the opportunity to work as an intern with scientists in a wild dolphin research program at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, He witnessed firsthand the negative effects of improperly disposed monofilament fishing line on dolphins and other marine wildlife. Because of his observations, Sean created “Stow It – Don’t Throw It,” a project to mobilize youth across the state of Florida in an education and conservation initiative. The groups made and distributed fishing-line recycling containers, which were designed to protect Florida’s marine wildlife from the dangers of fishing line entanglement.
The recycling containers were created from discarded tennis ball cans, which he received from tennis clubs. This had the added benefit of keeping the cans out of the trash. Because making these containers cost $1.00 each and Sean wanted to start with 1,000 of them, he worked to raise the funds. He gave presentations and speeches at various places, including the Florida Aquarium. He also created a video to explain the project and a Web site to advertise the project, educate, and inspire others. Sean’s Web site, www.stowitdontthrowitproject.org, illustrates how to make the containers and also has photos of animals maimed or killed by fishing lines.
Donations, grants, and gifts enabled Sean to start with the production of more than 1,000 containers. Sean enlisted the help of 4-H clubs across Florida and Operation Military Kids to both educate anglers on the importance of protecting marine life by recycling fishing lines and to assemble and distribute the “Stow It – Don’t Throw It” containers.
“I am constantly working toward developing this project into a model that youth in other states can follow,” Sean said. “Through my educational outreach materials, I strive to share this project, and the steps I went through to accomplish it with others.” He plans to continue working on this project in the years to come.
Reza Tjahjono, Honorable Mention, Age 16, Baten, Indonesia
Organic Waste and Compost Project
Reza Tjahjono wants to protect the environment by helping clean up his local area and teach others to love and care for the earth. Reza says that ” . . . most of the Indonesian people do not take care of the environment.” Reza decided to help the planet by processing organic waste at his school to create compost for flowers. He did this to teach people, especially the teachers and his fellow students at School of Universe, how to be more aware of their environment.
Before launching his project, Reza had an internship at a waste processing plant to learn how to process organic waste. He then submitted a proposal to get sponsorship to fund the project. He started by creating a waste processing plant in his school. He designed and manufactured a crusher machine though the help of a workshop.
The compost created in the school’s waste plant is bagged and sold locally. “By doing real-life work like this project, I can automatically educate and persuade people surrounding me to be more aware of the environment,” Reza said. “I would like to continue this project until I can clean up the world.”