A couple of weeks ago, I came home from the worst day of practice ever. I was dizzy and dehydrated. My body was sore and had bruises all over. And to top it all off, I had an AP Chemistry test the next day. It made me never want to go back to math team practice again. What! Are you kidding me? Great. So naturally, I bolted into my room and did what any productive teenager would do -- procrastinate. I found myself flipping through the TV channels, one after another after another, but then it hit me. A brilliant young lady appeared on my TV screen, and she said something that has changed my life forever. She said, and I quote, "A dollar makes me holler!"
Now, ladies and gentlemen, Honey Boo Boo was onto something. She found what made her holler; her passion. Passion is a compelling force that drives us to accomplish the seemingly unaccomplishable. To make possible the impossible. You may already have a passion and might not know it! It may be something you enjoy doing on the weekend with friends and family or something you see wrong in this world but wish of redressing. Some common passions include eating, reading, underwater basket-weaving. Honey Boo Boo's passion was money, and competing in beauty pageants was her way of pursuing this.
Passion is divided into two parts: the dreaming and the doing. Each part is as equally important as the other is, but we are often stuck in the dreaming stage. It's not enough to simply dream about something -- then it won't become a reality. You have to physically go out and do something about it. Oftentimes I hear people say, "I sing pretty well, but I wish I was as popular as Justin Bieber," or "I wish I got an A on that test." Okay, that's all fine and dandy, but what now? What are you doing to do? For the language arts test, you'd have to read the book... or just Sparknote it. To be like Justin Bieber, you need to sag your pants considerably to obtain the Bieber "swag," sing five octaves higher than what is humanly possible, and be able to swoon over 12-year-old girls.
So what makes me holler? My passion is empowering young people to leave a positive impact on the environment. This longing for environmental involvement stems from an experience I had when I was younger. When I was 12, my family and I visited Bangladesh, my parents' birthplace. I hadn't been there since I was a wee little squirt blossom, so I didn't know much about it except that it was a very poor nation. Despite this, my mother used to tell me stories of her fantastic childhood in Bangladesh. She recalled the time she would hide in the rice patties, jumping out at unsuspecting farmers and fishermen. She recalled watching the sunset at the lake, counting the clouds drift by overhead. She recalled running through lush green fields and eating berries, and I wanted to do this all! I wanted to make this trip something I could brag to my friends about.
"Hey Hasib! I jumped off a plane, wrestled an orangutan, and found Big Foot during my vacation. Beat that."
"Psh... lame. I went to Bangladesh!"
I was expecting to find fun and adventure, but instead, I found pain and suffering. As soon as I got off the plane, the smoggy Bangladeshi air choked me, constricting my lungs. The roads were rickety and battered. Heck, the roads didn't even have lanes, so the traffic made rush hour here look like a NASCAR race. The worst part was the people, though. There were so many of them. Poor, struggling, begging people. Many of them were sick and elderly, but many, many more were poor, abandoned children. Imagine being orphaned by your parents because they couldn't afford to keep you. You'd have to fend for yourself, finding rotten food off the side of the road to eat. Cries of sadness, misery and abuse reverberated through the city, and even though I was with my family, I felt alone because I couldn't do anything.
I felt an emptiness -- not in my stomach, like the millions of starving people, but in my soul. Days passed, and I visited a small park, one of the only public green spaces in the area. Even that was not bereft of the constant reminder of poverty. There was only a small, rickety playground and a stream running past it. One corner of the park caught my eyes: homeless boys were selling flowers for about 10 US cents. I watched as people brushed past them, one after another, so I went on over and got the attention of one of the boys.
Unfortunately, I didn't know Bengali, the native language there, so I tried English. I told him, "Hello, could I buy a flower?"
He just gave me some blank look, probably thinking I was an idiot. I tried again, but this time using the universal language: a smile. Now, he didn't think I was an idiot. He just thought I was creepy, but he understood what I meant, and I bought a flower. I could see fire burning in his eyes -- a fire of change. They wanted to be in control of their lives, but poverty silenced their voices. I realized that this suppression of youth voice and involvement was one of the factors in Bangladesh's demise. In fact, I realized that not even developed countries have been investing as much as they should on their young people, on us! I dream that young people all over the world would have a voice in their futures. My passion was ignited.
When I got back to the US, I wondered for a long time about what I could do. How could I make a difference when I couldn't even make my bed? So I asked the guru of knowledge, the master of information, the king of answers: Google. At first, I searched, "How can a 15-year-old save the world?" but unfortunately, I got back images of Taylor Lautner and Harry Potter. Not exactly what I was looking for. I refined my search for something more local, and after a couple more tries, I found an organization called Greening Forward, which was based in Gwinnett County. Greening Forward had a program manager position open. The rest is history.
Greening Forward is a youth-led and youth-focused environmental non-profit organization. It's almost entirely by young people who want to empower other young people. I like to relate what Greening Forward does to a small sapling. What does this sapling need to grow? It needs some TLC and throw in some manure for nutrients. Greening Forward does this with young people by giving them what they need to recognize their own potential. While we don't give out manure, Greening Forward's groundbreaking programs provide kids with knowledge and funds, so they can leave a positive impact on the environment. We do this by supplying them with an educational curriculum through our Earth Savers Club Program or giving them grants. When the conditions are right, young people can take their passions to new heights. I have the honor and privilege of working with kids and teens from around the world who want to change Earth for the better, like how I wanted to when I visited Bangladesh.
Personally, I feel that the best way to tackle a big issue is to get local or grassroot support to spearhead it. Greening Forward does this by bringing together communities across the globe to fight under a common goal of environmental sustainability. People need to help other people, and in that way, they find themselves.
Now, all this didn't happen overnight. Greening Forward was a collaborative effort lead by a young person who didn't wait for permission to change the world, Charles Orgbon III. At a young age, he identified a problem: littering at his school. This developed his passion for the environment, and he went out and tried to redress this issue. What he started turned into something greater than he would ever imagine.
As program director of Greening Forward, a question I often hear is: "Hasib, how can kids change the world? Only adults can. Kids are just too young, too immature, and too naïve." Seriously. Seriously. Age is not the same thing as maturity. Age comes from how many years you have been alive. Maturity comes from the experiences you go through and how you rise up! I know plenty of kids who act like adults, and I know plenty of adults who act like kids (cough, Charlie Sheen, cough).
But that just goes to show you the hard-working tenacity and charisma of young people.
And I'll leave you all with this: Don't settle for not good enough when you are better than good. Is there something you don't know how to do? Learn it. Is there something you fear? Overcome it. Is there something you see wrong in this world? Fix it. It all comes back to taking a leap forward with your passion and just letting go. Thank you.