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World Environment Day: Alumni strengthen their environmental knowledge and connections in Australia

Posted: 5 June 2019

Today (5 June) is World Environment Day, the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. Fittingly, Australia Awards alumni from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are currently attending the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Brisbane. For these alumni concerned about the future of our planet, the event will provide a strong understanding of climate science as well as the crucial communications, strategy and advocacy skills necessary to mobilise communities and catalyse solutions to the climate crisis.

Former US Vice President Al Gore, in opening the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training this morning, mentioned that he is inspired by rising generations and emerging leaders: what they are doing to protect the environment, and the innovations and initiatives they are introducing to build a better world. “The road ahead is by no means easy, but I am filled with hope,” he said.

US Vice President Al Gore opens the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training this morning. Photo credit: The Climate Reality Project

The opportunity to travel to Australia and participate in the training was part of an Australia Awards prize package awarded to three alumni teams at the Regional Alumni Workshop 2018 for their environmental protection projects. Selected from a pool of 14 projects pitched at the Regional Alumni Workshop, these three projects have made a significant difference in their communities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The training this week in Brisbane will further build the capacity of the alumni to make a difference as change agents for environmental action in their countries.

The team from Bangladesh (overall winning team at the Regional Alumni Workshop) implemented a project titled Community empowerment and action against illegal stone extraction to preserve the natural environment in Bangladesh. This project aimed to find solutions to the environmental threats and health hazards faced by the indigenous peoples of Bandarban, Bangladesh, due to illegal stone extraction from natural water bodies. The team went on to successfully lobby for environmental reforms as a part of the project, and secured a court verdict to stop illegal stone extraction, which was polluting local water sources in Bandarban. In addition to helping local indigenous peoples to access clean drinking water, the team’s actions will also help prevent further environmental hazards.

Speaking of the opportunity to participate in this week’s training, alumnus Pallab Chakma from Bangladesh said, “This will be a great opportunity for all of us to know and learn about different climate actions and strategies that the activists and environmental rights defenders are following to protect the mother earth. Equally, we could also share our experiences on the same issue to the larger communities”.

“We are expecting to be equipped with more knowledge and skills through this great learning opportunity. This exciting experience will surely be to our personal and professional benefit,” he said.

The top three Australia Awards alumni teams from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka after the Regional Alumni Workshop in Bhutan last year

The team from Pakistan implemented a project titled Awareness and community engagement campaign across Pakistan for environmental protection through a blended digital and offline approach. This awareness-raising campaign, Sohni Dharti Climateers, targets youth in Pakistan—primarily those attending schools, colleges and universities, who constitute the largest population of the country. The team recently conducted a photo contest titled Nature & Us, receiving more than 100 entries from 70 people. Submitted photos depicted the impact of climate change in five categories: air, water, earth, people and wildlife. The top 16 images were exhibited at an event attended by more than 120 people, including students, photographers, climate researchers, activists, entrepreneurs, influencers and journalists. In addition to showcasing the winning images, the event (titled Climate Change Through Your Eyes) also included thoughtful discussions on the climate crisis, climate adaptation, and the power of individual, collective and government action.

When asked about the opportunity to attend the training in Brisbane this week, team member and Australia Awards alumna Saira Ahmed said she is looking forward to making new connections.

“I am excited to meet and learn from people who are committed to fighting for the environment, just like me,” she says, “I look forward to being trained by leading experts about the latest technologies that can help solve climate crisis issues, and learning ways to motivate and encourage others to take action.”

Australia Awards alumnae Samar Hasan (left) and Saira Ahmad (middle) with Shirin Ahmed at a recent Sohni Dharti event, Climate Change Through Your Eyes

The team from Sri Lanka implemented a project titled Cradle to Cradle: Empowering school children to be catalysts for preserving the environment and tackling climate change in Sri Lanka. The aim of the project is to support schools to become climate friendly by adopting sustainable lifestyle measures, and to encourage students to be agents of change in building a climate resilient society. Australia Awards alumna Dr Pradeepa Jayaratne is representing the team in Brisbane this week. Pradeepa said, “I am very fortunate to receive this opportunity from Australia Awards to attend the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. Such forums are crucial in facing the current environmental issues around the globe, which are having a significant impact—particularly on small islands like Sri Lanka. Attending this event and listening to experts around the world is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can use my learning and experience from this training to help my country to take positive measures to think and act against global climate change.”

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training will offer a rare opportunity for the Australia Awards alumni to learn directly from Vice President Al Gore regarding how to raise awareness of climate change and how to inspire others to act. The alumni will have the chance to join a range of in-depth, theme-based, and practical skill-building workshops that explore key climate challenges and offer insights into solutions from an extraordinary line-up of scientists, policymakers, business and technology innovators, and communicators. This is also a great opportunity for the Australia Awards alumni to reconnect with Australia, as well as a chance for them to develop more networks of relevance and empower them further as agents for change.

About the alumni: Bangladesh team

Pallab Chakma

Australia Awards alumnus Pallab Chakma is an indigenous rights activist from Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Currently he is working as Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation, a leading indigenous peoples’ organisation of Bangladesh that works for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. He is also associated with Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, where he holds the position of Assistant General Secretary in the National Committee.

He completed his Bachelor of Social Science (Honours) and Master of Social Science degree in International Relations from Dhaka University. Later, through what is now known as an Australia Awards Scholarship, he completed a Master of Mediation and Conflict Resolution from the University of South Australia.

Over the years, Pallab developed his expertise in areas such as community development, human rights of indigenous peoples, campaign and advocacy, indigenous women’s rights, environmental protection and climate change. He is engaged with different United Nations mechanisms and processes related to indigenous peoples and is also one of the editors of the Annual Human Rights Report of Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh, a regular report on indigenous peoples’ human rights situations.

Janet Vanpar Naco

Australia Awards alumna Janet Naco is an indigenous woman from the Bawm community in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Janet is a humanitarian aid worker who is currently working as a Women’s Protection and Empowerment Manager for International Rescue Committee in Rohingya Emergency Response in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Before this role, she worked in several local and international development organisations in Bandarban Hill District, Bangladesh, as a project implementer and also researcher in the area of advocacy for gender, indigenous women’s rights, education, and development issues.

She holds a Master of Development Studies from East West University, Bangladesh, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, Sociology and International Relations from Curtin University in Western Australia, the latter completed through an Australia Awards Scholarship she received in 2009.

Shohel Chandra Hajang

Australia Awards alumnus Shohel Chandra Hajang belongs to Hajang indigenous community of plain land, Bangladesh. Currently he is working as Project Coordinator at Kapaeeng Foundation. He has experience working with the Bangladesh government and different international organisations, including ILO, and Action Aid.

Shohel completed his Honours and Master of Social Welfare from Dhaka University. He completed a Master of Development Studies from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, through an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Other than his current involvement in Kapaeeng Foundation, he is the current Treasurer for Adivasi Australian Scholars’ Association of Bangladesh and is a lifetime member of the Australia Alumni Association Bangladesh. He has served twice as the Organising Secretary of Bangladesh Jatiya Hajong Sangathan, a community organisation. Shohel represents indigenous peoples in different UN Forums, including EMRIP and the UN Human Rights Council. Shohel also writes columns in national dailies regularly, highlighting different indigenous rights issues.

Lelung Khumi 

Lelung Khumi is a development worker by profession. He is currently working as the Learning Corps Program Coordinator at Helen Keller International in Bandarban Hill District, Bangladesh. He is from a marginalised indigenous community known as Khumi. He was brought up in a family of swidden cultivation (a traditional form of agriculture that is also known as shifting cultivation) in Kholine Para under the Ruma sub-district of Bandarban Hill District, Bangladesh.

Lelung completed his Bachelor of Social Science (majoring in Sociology) from Southern Cross University in Lismore in New South Wales, Australia, through an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2010. Upon his return to Bangladesh, he worked as a Planning Officer for five years under a capacity development component of a joint venture program executed by Bandarban Hill District Council and United Nations Development Programme-Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Facilities. His role involved project planning, project implementation, policy development, coordination, facilitation, monitoring and evaluation, advocacy, reporting, and developing publications, including newsletters and annual reports.

About the alumni: Pakistan team

Saira Ahmad

Saira Ahmad is a corporate communication specialist with 14 years of experience in a variety of challenging and multicultural environments. She has worked with organisations such as Telenor, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Netsol Technologies, Fatima group and TiE Lahore. For many years, she has actively worked with start-ups, women entrepreneurs, teens, entrepreneurial enterprises and academia, attempting to bridge the gap between all these parties and to develop a strong eco system.

Saira is a mentor and adviser to start-ups to enhance their marketing and business planning skills. Currently she is working as a business consultant for makeup brand Amayl to help revamp their business and strategise their marketing plan. Saira has represented the Pakistani entrepreneurial network at various local and international conferences. She is a lead facilitator for the British Council’s Developing Inclusive and Creative Economies fellowship program and is a member of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce’s Electronic Media & Marketing Committee. Saira completed an Australia Awards Short Course in Business Incubation Management through the University of Queensland in 2017.

Samar Hasan

Samar has more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship, higher education, financial inclusion, governance and international relations. She is Co-founder and CEO of Epiphany, an impact-driven social enterprise focused on enterprise and human development, policy advocacy, and diversity and inclusion. Samar is also leading public relations and outreach for DigiSkills.pk, an initiative of Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication. As an innovation specialist, Samar has helped establish technology entrepreneurship education institutions and organisations.

She is a mentor, trainer, start-up coach and consultant for various initiatives including the US Ambassador’s Fund Program, British Council’s Developing Inclusive and Creative Economies fellowship program, The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) and Oxfam’s micro entrepreneurship work. As one of the pioneering team members at Karandaaz Pakistan, she led the organisation’s marketing, communications and advocacy portfolio and spearheaded its community mobilisation and capacity building portfolio.

Samar has a Master in International Relations, specialising in Political Science, from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, specialising in Political Science, from Webster University, Geneva. She received a Young Alumni Award in 2017 from her alma mater, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. Samar completed an Australia Awards Short Course in Business Incubation Management through the University of Queensland in 2017.

About the alumni: Sri Lanka team representative

Pradeepa Jayaratne

Dr Pradeepa Jayaratne is a consultant and an academic in Transport and Logistics/Supply Chain management. She has worked as a Senior Lecturer and Senior Consultant at the Department of Transport and Logistics Management and the University of Moratuwa. She has also served as a Visiting Academic at National School of Business Management, Ocean University of Sri Lanka and Colombo International Nautical and Engineering College Maritime Campus. Pradeepa completed her Master of Science in Logistics and graduated with a Distinction award from the University of Wollongong, Australia, in 2007.

She completed her PhD in Supply Chain Management/Logistics in 2015 from the same university, through an Australia Awards Scholarship. She has also served as a consultant to many organisations, such as the Ministry of Transport and the Road Passenger Transport Authority. She also served as a Lecturer at Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong, Australia. Currently she serves as a consultant for World Bank, UN-Habitat, and the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. Pradeepa is currently the President of the Sri Lanka Association of Australia Awards Alumni.