World Environment Day 2023: How a teen climate crusader battled poverty, abuse after Cyclone Yaas
Across the world, there are millions of children who have been displaced from a stable life by climate-change induced natural calamities
As news of cyclone Mocha advancing towards India’s eastern coast blared from television sets and microphones a few weeks ago, 16-year-old Sikha (name changed), a Green Scout member in her remote village in Bengal’s South 24 Parganas, watched the ominous dark clouds gathered on the horizon.
Cyclones, storms and floods are a way of life in the environmentally fragile zone that Sikha lives in. Year after year, villages in the region have been ravaged, leaving behind a trail of death, destruction of property and infrastructure, damage to the environment and ecosystem and endless misery. Lives and livelihoods have been rebuilt, only to be decimated again the following year or the next.
In 2020, it was Cyclone Amphan, and the following year it was Cyclone Yaas.
Sikha can never forget how her life changed after Yaas. The cyclone had flattened their home, and the incessant rain and flooding that followed submerged whatever remained. When calm returned, her village was in ruins, as far as the eye could see.
Over the next few months, Sikha’s family of five, lived on one watery meal a day. A tarpaulin sheet tied precariously over four bamboo poles was the roof over their heads. For Sikha though, the worst was yet to come.
One dark day, Sikha’s “aunt” told the Class IX student that she would find a good home for her in a neighbouring village, where she would get two meals a day, a roof over her head and also help with studies. She took the unsuspecting girl to an unknown house in an unknown place and left her there.
Back home, when the hapless parents enquired about Sikha, the aunt said she had married off their daughter in a happy family, where she would be taken care of well. Already struggling to provide a square meal for his family and a roof over their heads, the father thought whatever had happened had happened for the best.
A few villages away, the “best” turned out to be hell for Sikha. The husband and the family took turns in physically assaulting her every single day and night. She was made to do chores, kept unfed and not allowed to come out.
Sikha forgot to smile. Actually, she could just about manage to breathe and live. There came a moment when she could take the torture no more — she ran away. The flight to freedom was short-lived, though. Back in her nightmare, the blows reigned free.
Days rolled into several months and the parents hadn’t heard a word about their teenage daughter. When repeated questions to the “aunt” did not work, the family approached Kaajla Janakalyan Samity, a CRY partner and explained the situation. “We took the family to the police. The father narrated the situation. The police told them that if the girl didn’t return on her own in a few days, they would accept a complaint,” said Vivekananda Sahu, project coordinator of Kaajla.
Around the same time, Sikha’s mother received a phone call from an unknown number. The voice on the other side, barely recognizable after almost a year, told a horror story of torture, abuse and a “marriage” of sorts. Sikha could not give the name of the village she was kept confined at, but the neigbour whose phone she was using, mentioned the name.
The Kaajla team swung into action, contacted the Gram Panchayat Pradhan of that particular village and made plans to bring her back. Before they could rescue her, Sikha ran away from hell, and this time she succeeded.
Back home with her parents, the nightmare came out in the open. The aunt, who many in the village say doubles as an “agent”, was nowhere to be found.
A new beginning
In December 2022-January 2023 began a process of recuperation and rehabilitation for Sikha. “The girl was in trauma and suicidal. It took us endless talks to convince her that she could fight back,” said Sahu.
With help and encouragement, the 16-year-old started attending classes at the Antarasha centre, run by Kaajla and CRY. She was admitted to a local school. Antarasha gave Sikha a reason to live and believe. Support classes made up for her learning gap and life-skill sessions helped her become mentally strong.
Sikha attended special sessions where she learned about environmental degradation, global warming, soil erosion and more. She knows now why cyclones, storms and floods have become more frequent than before. She is aware that her village may be decimated again in the aftermath of another Amphaan or Yaas. And she knows how lives can change after a natural calamity. Hers did.
Now a student of Class X, Sikha has joined the Green Scouts team in her village. Conscious of the fragile ecosystem around her, she tries to spread awareness about the little things that we can do to conserve our environment.
People need to know more about why the cyclones happen, and steps that can be taken in daily lives to mitigate the sufferings in the aftermath. Sikha and team convince people to plant trees and nurture them. The more the greenery, the less the amount of carbon dioxide in the air — the easiest remedy to reverse the adverse effects of climate change.
The 16-year-old has stopped the use of plastic in her family and she asks neighbours to do the same. Plastic waste can choke rivers and propel erosion at the edges, the crusader tells people.
Developing new understanding
A climate crisis is a child rights crisis, according to UNICEF. Climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s children and young people. It poses major threats to their health, nutrition, education and future.
Across the world, there are millions of children like Sikha who have been displaced from a stable life or adversely impacted by a climate-change induced natural calamity.
The important question: What can be done to redress? To begin with, efforts to sustain a livable planet must not only account for the unique needs and vulnerabilities of young people; they must also include them in the solutions. Children have critical skills, experiences and ideas for safer, more sustainable societies.
On World Environment Day, it is our responsibility to groom children like Sikha, who have been victims themselves, as ‘change-makers’ for the environment. Let them learn to use their knowledge and resources available to them to protect and conserve the Earth. Let them carry the mantle of ushering in a better tomorrow for themselves and the generations to follow.
Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.
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June birthstone: Pearl, moonstone, or alexandrite
Pearl is a June birthstone
Unlike most gemstones found within the Earth, pearls are organic. Simply, they grow inside the shells of certain species of oysters and clams. Some pearls form naturally in mollusks either in the sea or freshwater such as rivers.
However, many pearls today are cultured: raised at oyster farms which sustain a thriving pearl industry. Pearls are made mostly of aragonite, a relatively soft carbonate mineral (CaCO3) that also makes up the shells of mollusks.
A pearl forms when a very small fragment of rock, a sand grain, or a parasite enters the mollusk’s shell. And it irritates the oyster or clam, who responds by coating the foreign material with layer upon layer of shell material. Then the pearls forming on the inside of the shell are usually irregular in shape and have little commercial value. However, those forming within the tissue of the mollusk are spherical or pear-shaped, and are highly sought out for jewelry.
Pearls come in several colors
Pearls possess a uniquely delicate translucence and luster that make them one of the most highly valued gemstones. The color of the pearl depends on the species of mollusk that produced it and its environment. Generally, white is the best-known and most common color of pearl. However, pearls also come in delicate shades of black, cream, gray, blue, yellow, lavender, green, and mauve.
Black pearls are found in the Gulf of Mexico and waters off some islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Persian Gulf and Sri Lanka are well-known for exquisite cream-colored pearls called Orientals. Other localities for natural seawater pearls include the waters off the Celebes in Indonesia, the Gulf of California and the Pacific coast of Mexico. The Mississippi River and forest streams of Bavaria, Germany, contain pearl-producing freshwater mussels.
Also popular are beautiful cultured pearls
Japan is famous for its cultured pearls. And everyone familiar with jewelry has heard of Mikimoto pearls, named after the creator of the industry, Kokichi Mikimoto. Cultured pearls grow in large oyster beds in Japanese waters. An “irritant,” such as a tiny fragment of mother-of-pearl, is introduced into the fleshy part of 2-to-3-year-old oysters.
The oysters then grow in mesh bags submerged beneath the water and nourished for 7-to-9 years before harvested to remove their pearls. In addition to Japan, Australia and the equatorial islands of the Pacific have cultured pearl industries.
The largest pearl in the world is believed about 3 inches long and 2 inches across, weighing 1/3 of a pound (.13 kg). Called the Pearl of Asia, it was a gift from Shah Jahan of India to his favorite wife, Mumtaz, in whose memory he built the Taj Mahal.
Many experts consider the La Peregrina (the Wanderer) is to be the most beautiful pearl. Legend says a slave found it in Panama in the 1500s, who gave it up in return for his freedom. In 1570, the conquistador ruler of the area sent the pearl to King Philip II of Spain. This pear-shaped white pearl, 1 1/2 inches in length, hangs from a platinum mount studded with diamonds.
Then the pearl went to Mary I of England, then to Prince Louis Napoleon of France. And he sold it to the British Marquis of Abercorn, whose family kept the pearl until 1969, when they offered it for sale at Sotheby’s. Finally, actor Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
Pearls, according to South Asian mythology, were dewdrops from heaven that fell into the sea. Then shellfish caught them under the first rays of the rising sun, during a period of full moon. In India, warriors encrusted their swords with pearls to symbolize the tears and sorrow that a sword brings.
Pearls were also widely used as medicine in Europe until the 17th century. Arabs and Persians believed they were a cure for various kinds of diseases, including insanity. Pearls have also been used as medicine in China as early as 2000 BCE, where they were believed to represent wealth, power and longevity. Even to this day, Asia uses ground-up low-grade pearls as medicine.
Another June birthstone: the moonstone
June’s second birthstone is the moonstone. Moonstones are believed to be named for the bluish white spots within them. So when held up to light they project a silvery play of color very much like moonlight. And when the stone moves back and forth, brilliant silvery rays move about, like moonbeams playing over water.
Moonstone belongs to the family of minerals called feldspars, an important group of silicate minerals commonly formed in rocks. About half the Earth’s crust is composed of feldspar. This mineral occurs in many igneous and metamorphic rocks, and also constitutes a large percentage of soils and marine clays.
Rare geologic conditions produce gem varieties of feldspar such as moonstone, labradorite, amazonite, and sunstone. They appear as large clean mineral grains, found in pegmatites (coarse-grained igneous rock) and ancient deep crustal rocks. Feldspars of gem quality are aluminosilicates (minerals containing aluminum, silicon and oxygen), that are mixed with sodium and potassium. The best moonstones are from Sri Lanka. Plus, they are found in the Alps, Madagascar, Myanmar (Burma), and India.
The ancient Roman natural historian, Pliny, said that the moonstone changed in appearance with the phases of the moon, a belief that persisted until the 16th century. The ancient Romans also believed that the image of Diana, goddess of the moon, was enclosed within the stone. Moonstones were believed to have the power to bring victory, health, and wisdom to those who wore it.
In India, the moonstone is considered a sacred stone and often displayed on a yellow cloth, yellow being considered a sacred color. The stone is believed to bring good fortune, brought on by a spirit that lives within the stone.
Or select alexandrite as your June birthstone
Lastly, June’s third birthstone is the alexandrite. Alexandrite possesses an enchanting chameleon-like personality. In daylight, it appears as a beautiful green, sometimes with a bluish cast or a brownish tint. However, under artificial lighting, the stone turns reddish-violet or violet.
Alexandrite belongs to the chrysoberyl family, which is a mineral called beryllium aluminum oxide in chemistry jargon, that contains the elements beryllium, aluminum and oxygen (BeAl2O4). It is a hard mineral, only surpassed in hardness by diamonds and corundum (sapphires and rubies). The unusual colors in alexandrite come from the presence of chromium in the mineral. Chrysoberyl is found to crystallize in pegmatites (very coarse-grained igneous rock, crystallized from magma) rich in beryllium. They are also found in alluvial deposits, that is, weathered pegmatites, containing the gemstones, that are carried by rivers and streams.
Alexandrite is rare and expensive
Alexandrite is an uncommon stone, and therefore very expensive. Sri Lanka is the main source of alexandrite today, and the stones have also been found in Brazil, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Myanmar (Burma). Meanwhile, synthetic alexandrite, resembling a reddish-hued amethyst with a tinge of green, has been manufactured. The color change in the synthetic stones from natural to artificial lighting is not present. Moreover, the synthetic stones have met with only marginal market success in the United States.
History of June birthstone alexandrite
Alexandrite is named after Prince Alexander of Russia, who became Czar Alexander II in 1855. Discovered in 1839 on the prince’s birthday, alexandrite was found in an emerald mine in the Ural Mountains of Russia.
Also, because of its relatively recent discovery, there has been little time for myth and superstition to build around this unusual stone. In Russia, the stone was also popular because it reflected the Russian national colors, green and red, and was believed to bring good luck.
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Find out about the birthstones for the other months of the year.
Bottom line: The month of June has three birthstones: pearl, moonstone, and alexandrite.
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Tonight, Europe will experience a little resurrection—the first privately-run overnight sleeper train service will take passengers and their dreams aboard a Brussels to Berlin line.
Born from a former-train guard’s longing for a historic form of rail travel and a growing demand for low-carbon transport, European Sleeper used crowdfunding and friendly competition to revive this 19th-century form of locomotion.
The idea, according to European Sleeper’s founder Elmer van Buuren, is that people are realizing a combo of budget airline plus hotel stay involves a lot of extra planning, early mornings, and carbon emissions.
Alternatively, high-speed rail is expensive and booked weeks in advance.
By comparison, European Sleeper allows one to avoid the necessary booking of accommodations, while delivering passengers right into a historic city center in time for morning business meetings or a day of exploring, rather than 50 kilometers outside in an airport.
“Until a couple of years ago, everyone thought sleeper trains were a thing of the past and something for hopeless romantics with their heads in the 19th century. That is just not the case,” van Buuren told the Financial Times.
Van Buuren has faced a significant number of challenges in launching European Sleeper. Private rail companies are few and far between, and the stock of specialty sleeping carriages is either refurbished from the mid-20th century with a lack of modern amenities, or are being ordered too small in number for manufacturers to put any effort into them.
Furthermore, the coordination required between the EU member states to connect railway timetables is extremely difficult in the best of times, and has proven even harder still because the night trains would need a place to park during the day, and placements in arrival cities during the busiest hours.
Fortunately, the demand for sleeper trains won’t go away, and national railway companies are beginning to address the consumer demand to place orders of sleeper carriages.
Van Buuren turned to crowdfunding, raising €500,000 from 140 small investors in the first serious attempt. One of the large issues with finding the funding is that train operators need to apply every year for track capacity.
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“And that means that you cannot really prove that you can produce your product for the next 10 years,” explains Elmer, this time to Euro News. “If we had a framework agreement across the borders that would guarantee… we will get the capacity for the next 10 years, that would highly de-risk the investment and get financiers on board.”
This, says van Buuren, will require the EU member state regulators and infrastructure managers to work out better plans than those they have now.
But despite these and other challenges, European Sleeper is launching its inaugural service tonight (Thursday, May 25th,) from Brussels to Berlin, on a three-way line that will connect these two cities plus Amsterdam. The company managed to amass another €2,000,000 in seed capital, which garnered them recognition from the European Commission as one of 10 pilot projects that aim to improve train travel and slash emissions.
What can travelers expect?
Aboard a European Sleeper train, three classes exist. The sleeping cars for a single business traveler are comfortable and run at €128 which includes breakfast. Small groups and families can book couchettes (from €89 per person, including breakfast) that seat either 4 or 6 people.
In the near future, the company wants to add dining cars so that the third class (recline seating) has refreshment options as well.
The expensive tickets take into account that the passenger is avoiding the need to book a hotel or a long taxi ride from the airport.
Starting next year, the three-way line which runs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights with returns on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, will extend through Dresden down to Prague in the Czech Republic.
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In 2025, they will hopefully have lines that take passengers from Amsterdam, Brussels, and the UK, down through Lille, Provence, and Barcelona.
Several low-emissions travel options are debuting across Europe in the next few years. Along with European Sleeper, rigid airships will return to the continent’s skies for the first time in a century when Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) launch their services from Oslo to Stockholm or Liverpool to Belfast, with emissions even lower than those of rail travel.
Passengers will enjoy silent air travel with floor-to-ceiling windows and substantially more space and freedom of movement than aircraft.
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Greece Makes Hundreds of Beaches Accessible to Wheelchairs With Self-Operating Ramps into the Water
Describing access to the sea as an inalienable human right, Greek tourism authorities are retrofitting 287 beaches across the country with self-operating wheelchair ramps.
Self-operating means that wheelchair users can operate it by themselves without assistance from a friend or employee, offering a flexible freedom rarely found in difficult terrain such as beach sand.
So far, work crews have already installed the Seatrac system on 147 beaches, where disabled people can enjoy swimming in the country’s famous blue waters.
The scope of the project goes beyond beaches and has seen the Acropolis of Athens equipped with a wheelchair elevator, and many other sides receive renovations to make wheelchair-bound visitors more welcome, including bathrooms, sidewalks and walkways, snack bars, and other amenities.
“People with disabilities and people with limited mobility can engage in activities such as swimming that contribute to their physical and mental health,” Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s tourism minister, announced at a press conference.
“Seatrac does not provide only independent access to the sea,” Ignatios Fotiou, who helped develop the technology, to the Washington Post. “It provides dignity and independence to people with mobility issues that want to enjoy swimming. They can choose where to go and ask their friends to join them, not the other way around.”
The government of the country created a website for all the info needed to plan a wheelchair-included trip to the beaches of Greece, including a map of all the beaches nearby equipped with the Seatracs.
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