Dignitaries and other notables have congregated at the UN in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to debate the future of the world.
Among them is a handful of individuals who have already taken the future into their hands and making things happen.
Shady Rabab is the Young Champion of the Earth for Africa having been feted for his hands-on approach to addressing the issue of waste management.
Rabab is the founder of Rabab Luxor Art Collective and Co-Founder of the Malakout music band.
He says: “In Luxor, Egypt, I have seen many children collecting rubbish to sell to garbage dealers. They are ordered to climb mountains of rubbish and hand scraps over to the dealers, who then sell the waste to recycling companies. The children do not see the benefits of this work. The dealers have control over them. They often shout at them and abuse them physically.”
He adds that children should be free, spend their days having fun in a safe environment in school, furthering their education, and they should be exposed to art and music.
Rabab says his awakening came after he moved to a different town for his studies.
“When I was younger, I left my family in the Nile River Valley to pursue my academic studies in the Fine Arts in Luxor. It is there that I first noticed the garbage heaps that surrounded the streets. It devastated me that our environment should be treated as trash. Instead of throwing away two or three bottles per day, I started looking at these potential flutes, bassoons or oboes and other reed instruments – and hit on an idea.”
He adds: “My realization was: why not show young people that everyone can lead to change? Recycling and managing waste bring huge opportunities to local communities. Instead of wading through trash, children could make instruments and learn the universal language of music. With newfound enthusiasm, I decided to make my dream a reality: to form a band with children waste collectors in Luxor, making beautiful music from recycled materials. That is how I turned my house into an upcycling workshop.”
And for this sheer determination to create change, the UN has recognised his efforts awarding him the Young Champion of the Earth, Africa. He is among the seven awardees who will take home USD 15,000 in seed funding, attendance at a high-level UN meeting, an introduction to dignitaries at the Champions of the Earth Award Ceremony and participation in an entrepreneurial training programme provided by The DO School.
The other six awardees are Hugh Weldon, recognized for his smartphone app which calculates a user’s ecologic footprint based on scanned shopping receipts.
Heba Al-Farra, for her support of female environmental professionals in the green industry across the Middle East and North Africa.
Arpit Dhupar, for his ground-breaking technique that filters 90 per cent of particulate matter from diesel generators and turning it into ink, without impairing mechanical performance.
Miao Wang, receiving the prize for her Better Blue initiative, which empowers divers to conserve and protect the ocean and Miranda Wang, for her novel technology to turn plastic pollution into new resources for a sustainable economy.
The last one is Gator Halpern who launched a network of coral farms to restore endangered reefs, restoring vibrant ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.