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HOLDING HOPE WITH KEHKASHAN BASU 

Kehkash Basu

United Nations Human Rights champion and founder of the Green Hope Foundation, Kehkashan Basu, speaks to Staiy about challenging the status quo and the importance of stepping out of our comfort zones to make positive changes in the world.

Words By Jen McDonald

December, 9th 2020

Kehkashan Basu has learned to trust her instincts and even at the age of seven, she sensed that something was not right with the world. “I saw a photo of a dead bird with its belly full of plastic, and as a child that deeply disturbed me,” shares Basu, telling us about the visual trauma she experienced as a child. “I couldn’t stop thinking about the pain it must have gone through before it died. As a curious child, I began to question how such a thing could happen.” And in this pivotal moment, Basu realised her calling in life. “Protecting the environment always felt very natural, but seeing this bird truly pushed me to change my whole attitude towards the environment and sustainability,” she continues. 

Born on World Environment Day, it seems Basu was destined to save the world. As a youth leader, environmentalist, champion of children’s rights, peace and sustainability campaigner, and passionate advocate of women’s rights, the twenty-year-old global influencer has certainly lived up to her fateful birthday. Basu’s extraordinary bid to help protect the planet began with educating her friends, neighbours and community. “On my eighth birthday, I started going to my neighbourhood shops to talk about sustainability, waste and in general what they could do to be more environmentally and socially conscious,” she tells us. “I talked to friends, went to different schools and when I was older, I started conducting workshops too.”

@greenhopefoundation

At just eleven years of age, she was invited to her first ever United Nations conference. And that was only the beginning. “At twelve, I attended the Earth Summit which was the largest global environmental conference with 50,000 delegates there,” says Basu. “I was one of the only people under eighteen there. I was also the youngest to participate in a press conference, which is how I realized there is a huge lack of inclusivity regarding children in this society-wide issue.” At the same age, she started the Green Hope Foundation, an NGO with a mission to educate and empower children on environmental and sustainability issues with a focus on mitigating climate change. “We do music, art, drama, fashion, sport and writing. This is an incredibly effective way to get children to express their feelings and really be themselves, especially with children from marginalized communities who may have never been to school to do all of these things.” 

The Green Hope Foundation is an organization run by children, for children. The group works to raise awareness and educate the world on how to lead a sustainable life. They engage and educate youths and adults alike through interactive workshops and conferences involving educational institutions, communities and corporations. Following the global Sustainable Development Goals, some of the issues they focus on include: social upliftment and inclusivity; sustainable consumption and production; peace building; gender equality; biodiversity conservation, and their overall impact on children’s rights. To date, the foundation has had a positive impact on thousands of young people worldwide. Uniting more than a thousand people from across the globe, the foundation has created a network of individuals carrying out grassroots projects who meet to share ideas at international conferences and forums. It already has members in fourteen different countries, with a special focus on marginalized groups including girls, orphans and refugees. “We cleaned up over 165 beaches, parks, ravines and communities, worked on animal conservation, and recycled over 200 tons of waste,” Basu tells us. They have also conducted workshops for children and women in marginalized communities in Bangladesh. “We have been promoting health and wellbeing, and giving out lots of gloves and hand sanitizers to those communities. We have also been delivering workshops for women and girls on how to protect themselves from sexual assault.” 

Despite the current pandemic, the Green Hope Foundation has remained remarkably active. With the foundation going viral, it has conducted over thirty webinars so far. Basu explains that children have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially where education is concerned. There are 265 million children in the world who do not attend school, which has only increased due to the pandemic. In most urban areas, education has undergone a shift to digital learning, but this has created a divide where children from low income families do not have access to computers. “With Green Hope, we have partnered with the Toronto school board, the largest school board in Canada, to provide free environmental education to the children through virtual workshops. We wanted to work with the children from low income communities but with the pandemic, we have realized it’s just not possible at this time.” 

@greenhopefoundation

Basu loves what she does, and she would not have settled for anything less. “The biggest lesson I have learned is that it’s so important to be passionate and love what you do. Our whole international arena is treacherous. So much can happen, figuratively and literally speaking, especially when you work in areas that are war torn, for instance. If you don’t have the passion, love, honesty or dedication then I don’t think you can move forward,” she explains. However, it has not all been smooth sailing for Basu, telling us about the death threats she has received: “I didn’t realize how hard that would be as a child and as a woman of colour. I was cyberbullied, I was stalked, I have had death threats, hatemail, slander and all of this continues to this day. It started when I was ten, which was obviously terrifying. When my parents asked me if I wanted to continue what I was doing, I realized that I love my work more than the fear of these people.”

Her message to everyone? To step out of our comfort zones. “It’s so important for people to take a leap, to do something that society tells you not to do. Obviously this is scary but it’s really important if we want to make a positive change,” says Basu. “If we all took that step, then the world would be a much better and sustainable place.” We asked her what the future holds for the Green Hope Foundation: I hope to be in every country in the world because I want every single person to adopt a sustainable way of life. And to be able to continue to provide education on sustainable development at a ground level to children and youth around the world. That is my hope for Green Hope, and I am slowly and steadily growing to create a meaningful impact.”