Charanjeet Singh Minhas is a board member of Delaware Interfaith Power & Light.
“Air is the guru, water is the father, and Earth is the great mother of all. Day and night are the two nurses, one male and one female, in whose laps all the world is at play.” — Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism.
Today, the atmosphere is like a charcoal furnace. The vital elements of nature, like air, water and the Earth, are no longer as hospitable to life on the planet as they once were — not long ago. With smoke from wildfires further worsening air quality and atmospheric temperatures breaking all previous records, day after day, it isn’t easy to stay outdoors.
A different kind of pandemic is presently entrapping our world. Individuals and families find it hard to leave their homes. In some locations, they find that staying in them is also not an option.
I have been a part of the software industry for the last 30-plus years. In 2020, I joined the board of Delaware Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit dedicated to combating climate change and environmental injustice in the First State.
It is clear to us that our youth, locally and around the world, are justifiably concerned, even angry, about this climate emergency, one they had no part in making. To explore these anxieties and ideas for solutions, Lisa Locke, former Delaware Interfaith Power & Light executive director, and I organized an essay contest last year for high school students. We named the contest “RENEW” and offered cash prizes for the top submissions.
Now in its second year, the dozens of entries we received from high schoolers throughout Delaware make it clear that an impressive segment of our young people is aware of climate challenges we face and prepared to meet them.
A panel of 12 volunteer statewide judges evaluated and ranked the submissions and sent the top five essays to Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson, internationally known environmentalists, writers and co-editors of “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril,” an essay compilation with a foreword by Desmond Tutu. Moore and Nelson, for the second year, served as our national judges and selected the top three essays.
“There is nothing in this world so inscrutable or evanescent, yet so instrumental, as life itself,” Raina Lakhani, a rising senior at Caesar Rodney High School, wrote in the opening of her first-place essay, “Trees, Tornadoes and the Global Climate.”
Moore commented about Raina’s submission: “A strong emotional arc structures this essay of love and loss. ... The description is empowered by the consistent use of words that give the trees almost-human characteristics: decapitated, flesh, body, blood, haggard, brave.”
Kaitlyn Mayer, a rising senior at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, is candid about her generation’s vulnerabilities: “Climate change is real and is here. Today’s young people will face the worst effects as its impact escalates.”
Participating again this year, Jon Dong, a rising junior from Tower Hill School, narrates an inspiring personal story of advocacy: “No one can be successful every single time, but you must never lose that inner fire, that motivation to advocate for what’s right. You must find your special role in nature, whatever it may be, and hold onto it. I implore every reader to embody the fighting spirit that my nine-year-old self-possessed, the spirit that I never lost.”
“The youthful passion and energy inspire others in ways that are unachievable by others,” says Anaum Allimulla, a rising senior at Newark Charter School and a second-time winner.
Ayomipo Adeojo, a Newark Charter rising junior, writes: “We all need to put our pride aside and see nature as a place that tolerates us, not the other way around. It’s our place to protect nature, and I want to do it because it protects, nourishes and shelters me, so the least I could do is do the same.”
They remind me of a garden where diverse plants and flowers unite to sustain the garden and restore its beauty and fragrance.
Editor’s note: Dover student Raina Lakhani took the top prize in the Delaware Interfaith Power & Life RENEW 2023 Essay Contest. You can read her essay at baytobaynews.com/opinion.