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Refusing To Quit Even When Harassed, How Afroz Rid Versova Beach Of 13 Mn Kg Of Plastic!

When swathes of plastic debris washed up on Versova beach, 33-year-old Mumbai high court lawyer Afroz Shah didn’t just complain. He did something about it. Since October 2015, every weekend has been a ‘date with the ocean’, wading through debris to pick up plastic waste along the coastline.

It was Afroz who first drew my attention to the true devastation caused by plastic pollution in our oceans. From Bollywood stars to slum-dwellers, thousands of volunteers have since joined him on his clean-up mission. They have turned the coastline eyesore into a near-pristine beach.

He almost gave up. He nearly quit when a group of his volunteers were harassed on the beach. But month-in, month-out, these combined efforts have dragged around 13 million kilograms of plastic waste out of the sea in the world’s largest beach cleanup project.

Work in progress.

He could never have imagined that three years on, instead of watching plastic debris wash up on the sand, he would witness around 80 baby Olive Ridley sea turtles crawl into the waves. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the turtles were visible on Mumbai’s shore.

This World Environment Day we’re calling on everyone who uses plastic to refuse single use-plastics. The plastic straw in your drink will be used for less than 20 minutes but will take 100 years to degrade in the environment. The same can be said for plastic bags, cutlery or cups – in fact, countless things that we take for granted.

Plastic pollution is a defining environmental challenge for our time. In the next 10-15 years, global plastic production is projected to nearly double. Meanwhile, up to 13 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean each year, killing 100,000 marine animals.

Beating plastic pollution will preserve our precious ecosystems, mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity – all with positive knock-on impacts on human health. Confronting plastic waste is a fundamental battle that we must fight today for a sustainable tomorrow.

As India hosts this year’s World Environment Day, communities will lead a global charge to beat plastic pollution through civic engagement and celebration. With support from an inspiring cross-section of Indian society, ranging from cricket pitches to boardrooms, we’re witnessing an unprecedented national commitment to this global cause.

You can be part of it. I believe the success of the Versova beach movement can teach us all three things. The first is that we are never too young to act. We need leaders of all ages to stand up for our environment; to act out their solutions today. It is through individual efforts like these, that we move forward.

Afroz Shah is one person. However, ever since he started out on this journey, he has attracted thousands of volunteers and inspired millions. His efforts show us that each one of us has the power to make a difference. Whether we are lawyers, designers, engineers – we all have a role to play in beating plastic pollution.

We must all make individual efforts. But we must also embrace the efforts of young people and make them central to our global movement. We can’t just talk about the need to get young people involved in decision making, or the importance of addressing ‘youth issues’.

We must bring young people to the table and hear their solutions to the major environmental challenges that face us today. We must ensure youth are included in panel discussions on environmental action; encouraged to speak at global events; included in important meetings.

The second thing we can all learn from the experience of Afroz is that we are never alone. When we courageously step up, we forge stronger networks among like-minded people, who will help us along the way. I believe that our Young Champions and Champions of the Earth – of which Afroz is one – are living examples of this powerful truth.

Whether organising a clean-up activity; going to an exhibition or having coffee with people engaged in something we are passionate about, we will meet other strong and inspirational women and men, who can help us build ideas and have a positive impact on the environment.

We will also face enemies – and this brings me to the third lesson that we can take from our friend Afroz Shah. You may fail. People may not believe in your ideas or support you at first. If you are an entrepreneur, you may think your idea is not yet good enough.

But if you persevere and continue, you will win supporters. And ultimately, your idea may be the one that unlocks a solution that our planet desperately needs. From growing demands for the Earth’s limited resources to more unpredictable and extreme weather, our environment faces unprecedented threats today.

We must find better solutions and faster than ever before. I believe that giving young people a platform is critical to solving our planet’s most pressing challenges. Giving up is not an option for us. Now is the time to act together – regardless of our age – for the sake of our planet.


Image source: Shashi S Kashyap/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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        Find out more about the campaign here.

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        Read more about the campaign here.

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        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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