The challenges facing our planet often seem daunting. But, a growing community of young people is taking a stand.
They have limitless potential to make an impact, with the imagination and drive to develop solutions to problems within their communities and beyond.
Ghaamid Abdulbasat, 23, a young Tanzanian explorer is among the change-makers who know that age is simply a number... A number that does not reflect their ability to work collectively to address some of the planet’s most pressing issues.
The young man is among the 2020 cohorts who secured National Geographic Society funding for their innovation to protect the environment. Among the 24 people from around the globe aged between 17 and 25, Ghaamid is at the frontline of the most complex and urgent issues of our time.
He’s addressing topics such as ocean and biodiversity conservation, food insecurity, plastics pollution and the impact of drought and water scarcity. He is leading various platforms aimed at mobilising the youth to stand up for environmental conservation.
The only Tanzanian who won the award, Ghaamid is now promoting safe, inclusive learning environments, and ensuring all children have access to quality education. He’s encouraging storytelling among youth, empowering them to be proud of their heritage and experiences and also paving new ways for young scientists with innovative solutions to combat environmental and health issues.
When Ghaamid was younger, he was in love with aircraft engineering. He always set his eyes toward the sky eagerly awaiting the day when his dream would come true. However, he took a sharp turn when his father suggested he add environmental sciences to his list of introductory university courses.
The young scientist knew nothing about environmental sciences at the time but his father, who is in construction noticed how the engineers he consulted were increasingly collaborating with environmental scientists.
“My father could never have imagined that his suggestion would dramatically shift my vision from the sky to one firmly rooted in the earth,” he tells Success.
Ghaamid dove headfirst into geomorphology, plant sciences, waste management, atmospheric sciences, technology, wildlife ecology, marine biology, water resources management and soil science.
“I was inspired and wanted to take action. My passion shifted from engineering to how engineers – and everyone else – could protect the environment.”
The young man began to connect the dots and understood that every single person had a role to play in protecting the environment, regardless of their profession. He notes that becoming environmentally conscious means people changing their daily behaviour at every level –individual, family, community and decision-making.
This is why, he says, Citizen Science, which is his brainchild project, is such a critical step towards protecting our earth and its waters because each person has an opportunity to become more aware and responsible for their behaviour and habits.
“My work is building the capacity of our community to create more sustainable habits,” Ghaamid shares.
As the Sub-Saharan Africa regional coordinator for the Earth Day Network, he focuses on mobilising communities, particularly young people, to pay attention to their waste habits through trash mapping using mobile devices.
The Environmental Science and Management graduate from Sokoine University of Agriculture (2019) says when people see a polluted area with plastics or other trash, they can take a picture.
“Using the power of satellites, the app will track the geo-location of the photo and upload it to the system. Then the data is collected and we can analyse the extent of pollution in a particular area.”
The data is used to influence local and national policies, empower stakeholders to take action, raise community awareness and engage in ongoing research to protect the environment. This is all about Ghaamid’s project.
He says people can also increase the protection of these areas by mapping trash points and advocating for proper waste management in those locations and others. “Such a collective initiative is a motivation to the community to accept and assimilate the new knowledge and techniques to fight the causes of the climate crisis because it empowers the individual.”
At just 23, Ghaamid is already known to the world for his creativity and diligence in ensuring the environment is maintained and enhanced. Since he was in college, Ghaamid believed in the power of the telephone and internet. He spent his extra time photographing and taking videos around his environment and then uploading them to his YouTube channel. It was here that he began his environmental advocacy campaign from his first year in college.
This set him apart from his fellow students. He won UN awards for environmental advocacy for the youth category more than twice.
“This was the first time I was recognised by environmental activists around the world. As a result, I won awards and funding for my project,” he explains.
Through his Citizen Science project, Ghaamid became the only Tanzanian to have won funding to implement his idea from the National Geographic Society.
Ghaamid is part of a global community of young people with empathy, tenacity, passion and an insatiable drive to seek solutions to build a sustainable future and thriving planet.
“Through Citizen Science we are soon going to know the extent of pollution in Dar es Salaam and the country as a whole to facilitate access to solutions,” says Ghaamid.
He uses the Open Data Kit App, in which any Tanzanian can take a photo of the state of pollution in their area and upload it through the data kit, which would later assist in making decisions on how to improve the situation.
“Citizen Science is a people-centred innovation. We need each of us to be a part of caring for the environment and we need the voices of the majority to be heard by the government to find a lasting solution to our oceans and biodiversity.”
Ghaamid does not expect to end up here but is extending these local efforts to also participate in the Global Earth Challenge. This is a campaign using a mobile app to collect billions of observations in air quality, water quality, insect populations, climate change, plastic pollution and food sustainability, providing valuable environmental insight and a platform for policy change in these areas.
“We are working hard to mobilise volunteers, bring in guest speakers, and host workshops to engage community members with this global effort.
“We want every Tanzanian to know that when we drop a plastic bottle on the ground, it will eventually end up in the ocean.”
The young environmentalist says our individual behaviour impact the earth, the ocean and every person who lives on this planet and that we all have a responsibility to change our behaviour. He says community action against the illegal dumping of waste restores hope in communities who have witnessed drastic destruction of the environment.
His Citizen Science project inspires community organising by giving individuals incentives to continue conservation efforts.
“We want to keep on advocating, building the capacity of our people, raising awareness and raising the voices of our youth. Sometimes it helps to make some noise.”
Ghaamid says, homes and families are essential starting points for protecting the earth and the ocean. He wants everyone to take time to think about where used trash goes, how they use energy and how they use water in their homes.
“The climate crisis will ultimately shift to our own backyards if we take the time to think about our daily habits.
“Young people are essential to raising this awareness – even in our own families,” he says.
While his father was the one who shifted Ghaamid’s path toward environmental sciences by noticing the changes in his (father’s) industry, now Ghaamid is the one who is shifting his family’s perspective on conservation.
“Each of us has the power and regardless of our paths, we have to put this power to use to save our planet and its ocean.
“This is what Citizen Science wants to achieve.”