Born in Multan in 1987, Rafia Saleem began raising her voice against the menace of environmental degradation at the age of 15. Besides contributing regularly on conservation issues in different publications, she became keenly active in numerous ecological initiatives, such as lectures and distribution of informative material in educational institutions.
Saleem is currently presenting an awareness segment on environmental issues and climate change on a local radio channel which focuses on fostering positive environmental action amongst the masses. She is writing another booklet for children on environmental heroes of Pakistan. She is in the final year of chartered accountancy and currently working as information specialist with UN-IOM Mass Communication Team in flood-affected districts of Punjab.
Excerpts of an interview follows:
What specifically have you done about environment conservation?
I presented my first research paper titled, Water and youth in the SAWAF-2 (Second South Asia Water Forum) in Islamabad in 2002. I was declared the youngest presenter ever. In recognition and appreciation of my research paper, an American NGO, Action for Nature, awarded me the Young Eco-Hero Award in the international category in 2003.
I was also the first one to highlight the problem of contaminated drinking water tanks in the educational institutions of Multan which were erected years ago but rarely cleaned or disinfected.
Feeling that the root cause of all environmental problems was the lack of environmental awareness amongst the masses especially children and youth, I produced an illustrated environmental booklet titled, ABC of environment that won many a laurels from relevant bodies. I received a prize in the National Book Foundation, Promotion of Children’s Literature scheme on the national level. I have produced some creative environmental awareness material in the form of bookmarks, greeting cards and pamphlets, and have also organised environmental education platforms.
My second research paper, Environmental education was selected for poster presentation at the First International Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESDev-05) at Abbottabad in 2005.
In the same year, I was selected for the Presidential Award, Aizaz-i-Sabquat. In 2006, I was featured in the Students Profile of Wyland Foundation’s Ocean Challenge, a series that educates children about the protection of natural habitats. I was chosen for the Star Laureate 2006 award from South Asia Publications in 2006 in recognition of my contribution to environment.
On the local scene, I am proud to have contested the issue of a filth depot close to a girls’ school in the Multan Bench of the Lahore High Court. The appeal resulted in court order to place a hygienically fit container on the spot and improvement in sanitary conditions.
I received the Fatima Jinnah Memorial Gold Medal in 2008 for my continued efforts in the field of social advocacy.
My efforts focused on dissemination of environmental consciousness through my writings, initiatives and activism.
Who has played the main supportive role in your life, and how?
My family has always been there by my side. My parents supported me a lot in my educational, professional and cocurricular activities.
How have your priorities in life been changing over the years?
Yes, they changed over the years. My focus shifted from newspaper articles to research papers and then to the material development. Activism became more important at a later point. On the personal and professional front also, things changed a lot when I started truly identifying with my mission.
What was the most important point of focus in your life?
Social service and conservation issues are the most important point of focus for me.
How do you see yourself in future?
I might be acting as an ardent eco-activist, writing a couple of more books for children and researching on law and accounts with a consultancy firm.