This is part of our new series "Gen: Change," in partnership with Youth Service America, featuring stories from the 25 most influential and powerful young people in the world. Click here to read more about Anoka and her amazing story.
Living close to the Bolgoda Lake of Sri Lanka gave me the painful firsthand insight into the destruction of the Mangroves, so I started volunteering at age 14 with the EMACE Foundation of Sri Lanka in 2006 to scientifically replant the Mangroves and address climate change mitigation.
My team and I developed a concept which integrated the environmental, financial, sustainability and social aspects and decided to upgrade the existing project to address carbon trading in the voluntary market as the regulatory market is complex, risky and expensive. With my friends, we started to giving meaning to the idea that action and service is power, because instead of complaining or being arm chair ciritics, we decided to do whatever possible to direct the attention of young people like us to be the generation of people who make things right and walk the walk.
Armed with the firsthand experience gained from volunteering with the EMACE Foundation of Sri Lanka, I introduced a Tree Guardian System (TGS) where a Mangrove plot of one acre each would be allocated to 500 community members of the Indibedda village bordering the Bolgoda Lake of Sri Lanka. This sustains their livelihood of fishing as the Mangroves provide the best breeding place for the many fish, prawns and crabs of the lake. Thus the social, economic and sustainability factors of the project are interconnected. The project is titled "Mangroves -- Sinking Carbon."
Over 12,000 Mangroves and a stable network of volunteers and supporters later, we brought in a social entrepreneurship aspect to the project because as we saw it, a person who is hungry will not really care about the environment, but only about whatever that is needed to get his fill. So we came up with a plan to promote eco-tourism and sustainability, to help the youth become better tour guides during their breaks and for the community so that they could provide accommodation and food to increase their monthly incomes. This was supplemented by the British Council's International Climate Champion programme, which helped me to be a better project planner.
This led to me being selected as the youngest SAARC Youth Award recipient at the age of 20 years old for Outstanding Protection of the Environment and Mitigation of Climate Change in 2011.
This made me even more inspired and we came up with a concept to help the community of Bolgoda Lake with solar-powered fishing lamps which were donated and subsidized with the help of various donors.
Being chosen as a Global Changemaker by British Council caused me to become even better trained and live up to my potential of making a change in the world. Having connected with other Mangroves projects in India and Bangladesh, and with pilot projects in four districts of Sri Lanka, our projects was literally flying!
Interactive workshops, tree plantations for YSA Global Youth Service Day, and Disney grants kept us going the extra mile and our focus was turned to the importance of policy as the catalyst for change. I was given the opportunity to represent Sri Lankan youth at the UNFCCC COP17 in South Africa, where decision-makers were influenced to take a stance on climate change and environmental protection. The power of service is well-reflected in this because not many youth get the opportunity to attend high-level decision-making processes to help them become better leaders and to prove their mettle.
We made Sri Lanka's first digital environmental music video, which I starred in as an earth spirit to bring environmental degradation into focus for the people of Sri Lanka.
After receiving a great response, we will be holding an environmental film festival to help our community balance out the economy and environment so that they can achieve harmony and nurture the reason for our existence.
So I say that there's nothing we can't do and I am proud to be part of YSA. Along with my friends and networks, I will continue to do my very best to help our country and world become cleaner, more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
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