18 year old Abisha dreams of a clean environment where people could not only enjoy the beauty of her coastal village but would also understand the symbiotic relationship between nature and people. Growing up in a coastal village near KanyaKumari in Tamil Nadu, India Abisha’s interest and awareness in the environment started when she was a young girl in the 6th grade. tdh supported project HEAL was working in those areas and they started conversations with the children in Abisha’s school to help them understand the necessity of a clean, sustainable environment. The project workers took baby steps and started a small garden within the school premises and that’s where young Abisha first started falling in love with nature and the environment. The young girl would love to spend time in the garden and watch things grow.

As she grew older Abisha began to spend more time with the HEAL project workers and realized that there were so many problems that her village and the district around faced. One of the main ones was the gradual depletion of sand dunes. Since these were coastal villages – they were surrounded by sand dunes. These dunes not only kept the villages protected but also ensured that the salt water did not invade plantations and cropping lands. The sand dunes were also a natural sanctuary and provided a breeding ground for a variety of plants, turtles and other marine animals – thus maintaining the balance in nature. However with the gradual depletion of the sand dunes – not only was the marine eco system under threat but the villages itself could be under severe danger.

The youth group therefore started work to rebuild the sand dune. Through advocacy with the local government, awareness with the villages and the communities – they gradually got the support they needed to rebuild the dunes. However, the bigger challenge was to ensure that the dunes were protected. Abisha with her youth group members started a drive to educate the villagers and ensure that they did not take sand from these areas for any activities. They also made them more vigilant to ensure that these dunes remained protected from outsiders as well.

Gradually they were able to help people understand and continue to do so even today. There have been attitudinal changes in Abisha’s village in more ways than one. As a girl when she initially started work she faced a lot of opposition from her parents and the villagers. In those days – girls were not allowed to go out and roam around freely and it definitely wasn’t considered appropriate for them to get into work which would take them out of the house for long hours. However Abisha was determined and along with raising awareness about the environment – she managed to break through the barriers of gender discrimination. Once people realized the good work she was doing – they started changing their minds. “Today everyone tells their daughters to be like me!” says Abisha proudly.

This young woman has completed her college education and is now busy carving a career out for herself in the social activism field and dreams of an environmentally sustainable world.