7 Kids Saving the Planet Right Now

By Diane Small

Oftentimes you’ll hear adults say we should really do more to save the planet so we leave it in an inhabitable state for the next generation. But some kids are recognising that the Earth is deteriorating quickly, and they know that the impacts of climate change will only be worse by the time they have children of their own. So, they’ve decided to do something about it themselves.

Meet 7 Kids Saving the Planet Right Now, our list of some of the most brilliant young minds in the world today.

1. Maya Penn, Environmental Campaigner

She launched her own eco-friendly accessories business (Maya’s Ideas) at the ridiculously young age of eight, and since then, Maya Penn has not blogged about environmental issues, but she’s given inspirational TED talks about them too.

Maya’s Ideas has grown into a very successful business, and Maya  donates 10 to 20 percent of her profits to environmental charities. Ever the entrepreneur, after she learned about the devastating environmental impact made by sanitary pads and tampons, Maya decided to launch another project focused on making  biodegradable sanitary pads. She would like to donate these to women in developing countries, who often have to miss work or school when they are on their menstrual cycles. So not only will these pads have some positive impact on the environment, they will also play a role in allowing women to gain more working and school days.


2. Rachel Parent, Anti GMO Campaigner

At the tender age of 15, Canadian teen Rachel Parent has already done more to help save the planet than most adults well beyond her age.

The environmental activist is the founder of  Kids Right to Know,  an organisation that  campaigns for mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She has organised and rallies and given speeches about the impact of GMOs on the environment and human health, but she is probably best known for her intelligence, poise and eloquence in debating.

In fact, she  challenged investor and TV host  Kevin O’Leary  to a debate after he called GMO protesters “just stupid” and suggested on his show that they “stop eating” as a way to “get rid of them.” Consequently, she appeared on “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange” and easily and confidently ran circles around O’Leary’s floundering, flimsy (and rather condescending) arguments. Today, she continues to fight for North American’s right to know what they’re eating–and often comes up against some tough opposition. But despite having her website and Facebook page hacked and encountering other obstacles, Rachel Parent seems to be completely unstoppable in spreading her message.  


3. Adeline Tiffanie Swanana, Environmental Champion

After learning that mangroves were key to preventing the damage done by flooding, the youth dedicated herself to mangrove conservation through the development of a community of young people. Called  Sahabat Alam, which means “Friends of Nature,” the group Adeline started has grown to contain over  1,700 members throughout Indonesia.When Adeline Tiffanie Suwana was just 12, she became worried about the effects of natural disasters and flooding that strongly affected her native country, Indonesia. So she decided to take action.

Adeline’s role in the organisation is to manage groups of students who are planting coral reefs, helping with fish breeding and turtle protection, planting  mangrove trees and engaging in environmental cleanups and education activities. Sahabat Alam also operates the  Electric Generator Water Reel project, which links isolated villages to the electric grid. Not only does this provide residents with much needed power, it allows them to improve their educational and health care facilities. What’s more, only clean, renewable energy is used to generate this electricity.

Adeline’s influence is vast. Her ideas have been presented in schools, with cooperation of governmental agencies and have even led to the production of a television program on the subject. She was invited as a delegate by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to the 2009 Tunza International Children’s Conference and awarded the 2009 Action for Nature International Young Eco-Hero award for her efforts.


4. Dylan Mahalingam, Eco-Educator

This creative teen has used his computer skills to amazing effect, founding websites such as Green Your Lives, Coral Crisis and Reefs in Peril that aim to raise awareness on the importance of caring for endangered species and coral reefs. So impressed was President Obama by the American youth that he presented Dylan with the Environment Award in 2009.

Dylan has now founded Lil’ MDGs, a non-profit organisation that believes the Internet can help empower kids to work towards fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The group now has an astonishing 24,000 members in 40 countries, all working at a grass roots level to eradicate poverty.


5. Katie Stagliano: Organic Farmer

In 2008, 9-year-old Katie Stagliano brought a tiny cabbage seedling home from school as part of the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program. As she cared for her cabbage, it grew to 40 pounds. Katie donated her cabbage to a soup kitchen where it helped to feed more than 275 people. Moved by the experience of seeing how many people could benefit from the donation of fresh produce to soup kitchens, Katie decided to start vegetable gardens and donate the harvest to help feed people in need.
Today,  Katie’s Krops  donates thousands of pounds of fresh organic produce from numerous gardens to organisations that help people in need. Katie is now a 12-year-old student at the Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville, S.C. and a vocal advocate of the urban gardening movement, but still finds plenty of time to tend to her cabbage patch!

6. Kelvin Doe: DJ Focus

With almost no training and very few resources, this vastly intelligent, creative youth has been recycling electronic parts he finds in the trash in his town in Sierra Leone to build generators, batteries, and radios since he was only 11.

The generators he makes provide his family with electricity, and he uses a radio and antenna he built to broadcast his own radio station, which he hopes will send a message to the youth of Sierra Leone to discuss and debate the issues that most affect them. Known as  DJ Focus  on the radio,  Kelvin’s inventions made him a finalist in the NGO Global Minimum’s 2012  Innovate Salone Challenge, where he then attracted the attention of MIT Media Lab graduate David Sengeh, who then invited Kelvin to the 2012 World Maker Faire in New York. After that, Kelvin participated in the  Visiting Practitioners Program, which allowed him to learn  from engineers at MIT and present his work to students.

Coming from a country affected by the devastation of war, blood diamonds and now Ebola, DJ Focus will certainly have no lack of issues to focus on–but he has clearly demonstrated that a little creativity and intelligence can go a long way towards making improvements in the community.


7. Elif Bilgin, Scientist

Turkish teen Elif Bilgin has thrilled her teachers, parents and those who care about the planet by discovering a way to make bio-plastic from an item commonly found in our waste bins: banana peels.

The 16 year old prodigy always showed promise academically. From the  4th  grade, she was put into a school for gifted children, where she was encouraged to develop her already advanced skills and talents. Since then, the teen has excelled at her studies and learned more about climate change and the environment. Somewhat alarmed at what she was discovering, she was determined to find  an alternative from petroleum produced plastics.

When Elif found out that potatoes and mango peels are already used to make bio-plastic, that fact, combined with the knowledge that Thailand alone discards 200 tons of banana peels per day motivated Elif to work on extracting the starch and cellulose needed for bio-plastic production out of banana peels.

Elif’s research took a couple of years, and her trials initially failed: the plastics created weren’t strong enough and decayed too quickly. But her persistence paid off, since she obtained the result she was pursuing and this discovery made her win the 2013 Science in Action award, Google’s third $50,000 annual competition. We can only imagine what other Earth-saving inventions Elif is likely to come up with when she enters university in a few years!



Diane Small
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