Central Asian Climate Heroes: Creative Climate Advocacy In My RegionOctober 19, 2023
By Malika Gizzat, 2023 Future Blue Youth Council member
Featured Image: “We are the Future” by Emily Cai (Massachusetts)
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson.
We need to let unwavering hope for a sustainable future sing in our souls as we face our climate problems. We can learn it from Central Asian people who are not afraid to transcend environmental barriers and advocate for our planet despite being unheard of worldwide. Activists from Central Asia often lack media visibility and international recognition when it comes to the incredible work that they do. But does being underrepresented stop them from engaging in ecological action? Not for a second!
Central Asia is a historically marginalized region consisting of 5 countries – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – that only gained independence 30 years ago. In the twentieth century, as part of the Soviet Union, they suffered from human rights violations and ecologically destructive economic practices, which led to environmental degradation and social injustice. As a rather “young region”, Central Asia is still recovering from its tragic past, but it is exciting to think of our bright future ahead! I am stating this confidently because I know that our brave eco-advocates and climate heroes will lead Central Asia to a green future. Let’s meet some of them:
Andrey Kulikov – Aral Eco-Marathon
Solving climate change and global boiling (yes, it’s not “warming” anymore) requires us to “run” quickly to find innovative solutions and implement a sustainable future worldwide. While the Fellowship grantee Youth Environmental Movement Group organized an Eco-Marathon at their school in Colombia, an Uzbek athlete-activist, Andrey Kulikov, conducted the Aral Eco-Marathon at the dying Aral Sea. The Aral Sea, located in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, was once the fourth-largest inland sea in the world until authorities diverted its waters for cotton irrigation and fast fashion development in the 1960s. Now Aral’s water volume is irreversibly reduced by almost 90%, leaving the locals without their natural heritage.
Andrey Kulikov decided to organize the Aral Eco-Marathon at a distance of 42 kilometers (26 miles) on the dry bottom of the disappearing sea to attract the world’s attention to the environmental problems of the region and inspire everyone to take active steps to preserve the planet. It was organized with Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Ecology on June 17, 2023, in honor of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The athlete finished the Eco-Marathon in 4 hours, which was broadcast live, and he is willing to do it again next year to spread awareness on a larger scale.
“You really need to visit the Aral Sea to truly feel the catastrophic scale of the ecological tragedy, drought, and desertification,” shares Andrey Kulikov.
Pakizat Sailaubekova – Recycle Birge
Climate activists from the neighboring country, Kazakhstan, also actively implement interactive and engaging ways to advocate for our planet. Realizing the significance of collaborative and youth-based action in solving environmental problems, businesswoman and eco-consultant Pakizat Sailaubekova co-founded “Recycle Birge”, (Recycle Together in Kazakh). It’s a social-ecological movement that helps people and businesses implement eco-friendly habits through climate education in many different ways. Recycle Birge unites youth in sustainable initiatives such as “Cleaning Games” where they collect trash from tourist places and recycling and educational events at various schools and corporations that impact thousands of people nationwide.
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Moreover, Pakizat Sailaubekova always highlights the important role of women in achieving a sustainable future.
“The role of women in preserving nature is enormous,” she says, adding that 95 percent of the eco-volunteers and the participants in their environmental campaigns are women and girls. “Women are at the forefront of solving many environmental problems, each at their own level. Our organization is also founded solely by women.”
Saniya Arinova – EcoSan
Saniya Arinova is another successful businesswoman and eco-advocate from Kazakhstan who uses her professional skills to help the environment while normalizing conversations about menstruation (just like our Nepali and Nigerian grantees). She founded EcoSan – reusable hygiene products for women – an eco-friendly alternative to disposable ones.
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“It is proven that disposable pads contain various synthetic fragrances and chlorine that cause health problems. One-off hygiene products are non-degradable too, which is unacceptable.”
Her reusable pads are used in the same way, but instead of throwing them away, one throws them in the wash. Such garments last for at least 2-3 years, and consist of natural materials approved by professional gynecologists of Kazakhstan. By switching to EcoSan hygiene products, one person can avoid throwing away 300 disposable pads every year. Saniya Arinova has her own sewing workshop and she recently launched an incubator program where she erases the taboo/stigma surrounding menstruation.
As a climate activist from Central Asia, a great part of my advocacy revolves around representing my region and increasing its international visibility in the media as well. That’s why I’ve decided to start my own volunteer international organization dedicated to raising awareness about Central Asian environmental challenges and celebrating its cultural identity – SeeAralSea. Through SeeAralSea, I connect creative youth from 5+ countries who create posts for our social media and write articles for our online magazine about their countries’ beliefs and environment. They powerfully use their creative skills to amplify Central Asian voices. As FBYC member Sarah said, “We are the next wave of environmental heroes with the influence to create the change we wish to see in the world”. So, I asked my environmental heroes, the members of my organization, to elaborate on their motivation to join SeeAralSea, and here is what they have to say in this video:
I firmly believe in the power of eco-activists from Central Asia and feel proud of all the incredible work that they do. I encourage all the readers to not only support them but also follow their lead and start similar initiatives wherever you are! I feel immensely grateful and honored to acknowledge my region’s environmental consciousness and write about my Central Asian climate heroes.