Syed Mustafa Ahmad
It is tough to be a teen in a world that seems only to criticise them. There are, however, teens who make adults sit up and take notice. Some of them are not yet eligible to vote but they are already filing patents, holding governments accountable, and making positive changes to communities. Here are the inspiring stories of four teenagers.
Up above the world so high
While most scientific minds dream about working at NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Association, a select few, such as Rifath Sharook, have NASA knocking at the door. Tamil native Sharook was 18 years old when his experimental invention, KalamSat, was launched by NASA on June 21, 2017. It was Sharook’s entry for the “Cubes in Space” competition organised by NASA.
Named after India’s Missile Man A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam, KalamSat is the world’s smallest satellite. Weighing a mere 64 gm, it is made of 3D-printed carbon and fitted with a computer and sensors for temperature, magnetism and altitude. Its launch was meant to show scientists how 3D-printed carbon fared in outer space. During its 12-minute mission, the satellite collected and stored data before returning to Earth and falling into the sea.
A beacon of hope
Florida native 18-year-old Hannah Herbst disproves people who believe that teens live in their own bubble. Hannah’s invention, BEACON, short for Bringing Electricity Access to Countries Through Ocean Energy, uses ocean energy to generate electricity. It all started when 15-year-old Hannah learnt that her nine-year-old pen pal in Ethiopia had no access to electricity. A little research told her the problem was only too common. Going with the reasoning that every human settlement would be around a water body, Hannah set about inventing a device to tap the energy in moving water and convert it to electricity. The BEACON is essentially a hollow plastic tube connected to a propeller at one end and a generator at the other. Ocean waves and tides turn the propeller generating energy that the generator converts to electricity. Hannah has been continuously improving the device, which has already been tested in an actual waterway and now includes a component to purify water.
Say no to plastic
International travellers to Bali, Indonesia, are asked if they would like to declare plastic bags, in addition to weapons or excess money. Melati and Isabel Wijsen’s fight against plastic is the reason for this. Inspired by the African country of Rwanda, which had banned plastic bags in 2008, the girls set up their company, Bye Bye Plastic, when they realised the importance of getting people to say ‘no’ to plastic bags. Beach clean operations were the first step, followed by petitions. Their company now has a global presence and their efforts have had tangible results. They succeeded in getting Bali airport to ban plastic bags in 2016. By January 2018, Bali had declared itself plastic-free. Indonesia has given itself until 2021 to be rid of plastic. When the sisters were asked what inspired them, they said that they sat through a lesson in school about Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Lady Diana. They decided to be the change they wanted to see in the world – one plastic at a time.
It is in our hands
It was September 9, 2018, a month before the elections in Sweden. Greta Emman Thunberg,15 at the time, skipped school to spend the entire day on the steps of the Swedish Parliament, demanding that the government take appropriate steps to combat climate change. After the elections, she continued her protest by skipping school all Fridays, spending them at the Parliament. With keen interest in the environment, Greta noticed how everyone talked about climate change but did nothing concrete about it. She had done her own research to learn more about what she could do to protect the environment. At the end of it, she had a changed lifestyle. She stopped eating meat, travelling by air, and buying anything that was not absolutely necessary. Her family followed in her footsteps. They installed solar panels in their home and started growing vegetables in their kitchen garden. They would ride bikes to work and would use an electric car only when unavoidable.
Thunberg has been calling out the patchwork environmental policies of governments. In her recent speech at the United Nations, she said, “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”
The world is beginning to hear extraordinary voices of teens. Adults can no longer ignore them. Their voices have had a profound effect. There is hope in the air. I think that teens who have an unbiased view towards the world will be the leaders of the change the world is about to see.