Friday, January 15, 2010

OnEartHeart: How a New York 12-year-old Plans to Tackle Environmental Issues and Global Peace

Some seven year olds are busy playing with trucks and Leggos®. Others, like Kimani Emmanuel, are involved in pursuits of a slightly higher level. To wit, at the ripe young age of 7, Kimani ─ who is now a 12-year-old, sixth grader at St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn, Bronx, New York ─ created OnEartHeart, an organization that is dedicated to saving the environment and encouraging global peace, while at the same time fostering an interest in science and technology.

Not surprisingly, Kimani ─ who in 2004 was the youngest member of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 395 “2 Train Robotics” ─ is himself passionately interested in the environment, world peace, and the fields of science and technology. In fact, the native New Yorker has already mapped out his professional future: he intends to become astronomer and astrophysicist.

Kimani, who initially became involved with FIRST when he participated in the 2006 Competitions in Atlanta, Georgia, says the name of his organization symbolizes the connection between all things and symbolizes that there is a special connection between us all: One people. One earth. One heart.

“It’s important to remember that we need to celebrate not what pulls us apart, but what brings us together. Different places may have different faces, but our hearts are all the same.”

When he speaks about OnEartHeart, Kimani references the philosophy of the Native American Indian, whose culture states that the land is borrowed, not owned. “We all are living on borrowed lands so we need to join together, embrace this fact, and share the land we have borrowed.”

What drove Kimani to pursue these altruistic endeavors at such a young age? He says he thought that “adults were messing up the world and it was time for the next generation to take over, but that picking up the pieces would take a lot of time and effort.”

Kimani has many goals for OnEartHeart, but an overriding one is to join together no less than 1,000,000 youngsters like himself and unite their efforts to save the planet. “If each member of OnEartHeart could donate just one dollar, we would have $1,000,000 to contribute to peace and saving the planet. As part of this effort, members could propose ideas and vote for them.”

Why kids? Well, certainly because Kimani himself is a kid, but more importantly because Kimani feels that kids have a lot of influence over their parents. “If we can persuade our parents to buy us the latest videogame or the coolest toy, then why can’t we persuade them to buy a solar panel to power a home computer, or an electric car, or simply buy some reusable bags to cut down on plastic?”

Also, Kimani feels strongly that young people are great communicators and, as such, are some of the best vehicles through which to disseminate the OnEartHeart message. “If one member of our organization tells one friend, who tells one parent, who tells one neighbor, then we would have an ever expanding web of enlightened people.”

In addition to fostering communication among like-minded kids, Kimani also supports the integration of today’s scientists with tomorrow’s scientists. Through OnEartHeart, Kimani hopes to institute a system where budding young scientists can share ideas and collaborate with more experienced scientists throughout the world. The hope is that together they will be able to discover solutions for many of the world’s problems.

For example, there might be a student in England who is working on a science project about pollution. Likewise, someone in India might be studying the same issue. Or, a geologist could work with OnEartHeart members to solve the mystery of tainted crop fields in Africa and India, and an ecologist could analyze what mining has done to the ecosystem.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could pool our efforts, share ideas, and discuss solutions? That’s where OnEartHeart comes in. Through our organization and its website we’d have access to thousands of kids trying to solve the same problems. They could join together and eventually get input from scientists who would also share their ideas.”

In addition to forming his organization, Kimani has developed a comic strip character to represent the ideals of OnEartHeart. The character ─ his name is Keyman ─ is a kid who can change into any race, culture, or religion depending on the circumstances. Kimani explains that the “Key” part of the name represents the key to succeed that is inside all of us.

Each week Keyman would embark on a scientific journey, and travel through different countries to try to solve a world problem. “For example, Keyman could start his journey in the Bronx and end up in Japan. Through his escapades, Keyman would learn about different cultures, religions, and languages ─ with the ultimate goal of realizing that we are all the same, no matter what our background or culture.”

Kimani has also developed several other components of OnEartHeart: the Flag Friends Program and the Border Buddies Program.

The concept for Flag Friends is to connect two youngsters who are separated by a long distance and encourage them to share each other’s heritage, culture, and religion. As part of the program, one youngster would send the other his country flag. Kimani explains that the flag symbolizes friendship between the two, as well as respect for each other. “Knowing about someone else breaks down ignorance, prejudice, and racism. Getting rid of these three things allows peace and love between cultures, therefore eliminating hate and giving people less reason to wage war.”

The Border Buddies program involves two youngsters communicating over a disputed border. Kimani reasons that if the two are able to communicate, they will convince others to do the same, “acting like stitches to heal the wounds and get a step closer to peace between the two countries.”

“We are at a point where choices have to be made. OnEartHeart is here to make
sure that all of us make the right choices. Each and every one of us.” As they say, “from the mouths of babes…”

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