The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is ‘One Earth,’ and its focus is on the importance of living sustainably and adopting transformative changes to protect the environment. After all, we only have one planet, and we should act as one to preserve it.
On this World Environment Day, we speak to Nahla Abueissa, EAA advocacy specialist and the driving force behind the Foundation’s Global Citizenship Initiative and its emerging Green Skills programme. Nahla is one of EAA’s outstanding women leaders we are celebrating this year, as our Foundation enters its second decade.
Why Education Above All?
Living in a world overshadowed by human rights violations, environmental erosion, conflicts, natural disasters, forced displacements - and being a woman who grew up in a part of the globe particularly affected by these crises –I built up a strong conviction that education, human rights, and environmental protection are central for nations’ building and prosperity early on in my life. When I joined Education Above All, I was motivated by its strategic focus on education as a universal human right – and was further attracted by the youth mandate of its ROTA programme.
EAA’s powerful strategy and the strong vision and passion of its Chairperson Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser were also important factors for me. I was eager to work on empowering youth as global citizens and agents of change who contribute to bring sustainable climate action to the global agenda.
As accentuated by the great African leader Nelson Mandela,
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world
Why education? When and where did your path on this journey begin?
I began my educational journey with UNICEF Sudan. In my eyes, UNICEF was a multi-faceted horizon for knowledge, a powerful tool for liberties and resilience, and a place where I could really make a difference in the lives of marginalised or disadvantaged populations, such as youth and women.
When I joined EAA, my focus eventually narrowed more specifically to the most vulnerable learners. The Foundation is committed to drive youth engagement and to work on empowering girls to be more resilient, knowledgeable, and become global citizens - through peacebuilding, environmental action, green skills, professional development and competitiveness on the global job market. This commitment targets marginalised youth, particularly in contexts of post-conflict, economic and environmental crises and poverty, such as South Sudan, Uganda, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
In the programme where I work, ROTA, we also strongly believe that education is a powerful tool to fight against the climate change – this was the logic behind our decision to launch our dedicated Green Skills programme.
This initiative is not just a collection of science-based subjects. We aim to develop technical knowledge and practical abilities – but we also pay a significant attention to the values and the attitudes the youth need to build in a sustainable and resource-efficient society.
ROTA supports interventions targeting youth in secondary schools, delivers technical and vocational trainings, and spearheads community-based programmes for marginalised young people, including those living in in refugee camps.
The most economically vulnerable populations are also those who suffer the most from climate change – and this is why it is imperative that we empower them to build more sustainable societies.
Through these efforts, we intend to prepare the youth to be the drivers of a greener world with cleaner energy, sustainable agriculture, environmentally friendly practices and mindsets.
Do you have any experiences that have made this journey a personal one?
My passion for people’s service was built early on in my life. My father’s involvement in politics in the region, both as a lawyer, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, a human rights pioneer, and a member of the UN Human Rights Commission - created a home environment where political discussions and human rights stories were topics around our dinner table. All of this created a sense of responsibility towards others and passionately anchored me on the road of social affairs.
To date, what have been some of your hardest memories or achievements in your work? If you had to choose one thing or idea that it helped you make, what would it be?
I consider myself lucky and blessed as I have been able to work with entities like regional civil society organizations, UN agencies, and donors, that play a central role in transforming livelihood of the youth, and particularly girls. Some of the things that helped me succeed are my passion for serving people in need, and never referring to my work with people's lives as a nine-to-five job.
To date, what have been some of your proudest achievements in work? If you had to choose one idea that helped you get there – what would it be?
One of my proudest accomplishments is always having the door wide open for innovative ideas and creativity and being flexible enough to not always stick to the established norm. “Everything is possible” is a phrase I genuinely believe in – and I have seen amazing results it can bring.
What inspires you in your field of work?
My inspiration for this area of work has sprung from my belief in how much better the world would be if people sincerely helped one another.
I wish everyone knew that there is room for everyone, that as human beings, we complement each other and are better off working together - rather than against one another.
In our area of work, we face harsh situations, and emotionally draining scenarios. We must remain positive and open-minded to save those whose lives are on the line.