Mumbai and Me: Examining the Environment

Having grown up right outside of New York City, and subsequently spending my college years in Boston, I thought I had seen my fair share of crowds and pollution.

Traveling on the local train in Mumbai has its pros and cons, but whenever I manage to push my way to the front , I’m continuously astounded and saddened by the amount of trash I see. Once beautiful side streams are now brimming with potato chip bags, straws, and plastic utensils. And if you decide that you’d prefer to close your eyes to block out the damage that you can see growing worse by the day, the smell is enough to push you back into reality.

Mumbai is a beautiful city that has forced me to reckon with the environmental damage that we are inflicting. Because I previously lived long-term in cities that had a different waste management system, the damage was largely shielded from public view.

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My work at the Naz Foundation lies in the intersection between technology and impact evaluation of a girls’ empowerment and health education program. Something that is discussed at length is our alumnae’s ability to go out into the world post-program, advocate for themselves, and – hopefully – try to make a difference. But in these conversations about the future professions of our alumna, be it banking, law, or social work, the environment rarely enters the conversation, Rather, it seems to be just another inconvenience.

What are we doing if not preparing a better world of the next generation? That is the crux of our work at Naz, and in the development sector overall. Giving them a better world mean leaving it not just in an inhabitable condition, but a healthy one that can continue to thrive.

And thus the question becomes: what do we do?

Here are some ways to help:

  1. Work with a water cleaning project (such as streams, rivers, and/or oceans) or take a few hours with friends to clean it yourself.
  2. Volunteer with local environmental organization. I’ve been fortunate to encounter small environmental activism groups in Mumbai, but they exist all over the world. You can find events or organizations in your community by referencing region-specific environmental blogs, and tapping into new networks.
  3. Make small changes to your everyday routine: invest in biodegradable garbage bags, sort recyclables (and understand how to properly clean them and start a composting project in your neighborhood.)
  4. Search for community-run environment initiatives, and what skill or labor gaps they currently are looking to fill.

Hailing from the small suburb of Ossining, New York, Akiera knew from a young age that she did not want to settle down in a mundane locale early on in life. That mindset led her to Boston, where she attended Northeastern University in 2013. Northeastern has a co-op program that provides students with 6-month opportunities (up to three times throughout their undergraduate career) to pursue full-time work positions in their field of interest. Having worked at a local health improvement NGO and a government agency, she decided prior to her senior year that it was time for her to go after her interest in sustainable international development, despite her fears of not having the correct toolkit. During undergrad, she immersed herself in research across a wide variety of social impact sub-disciplines: from human trafficking to drug abuse to sexual violence. Public health emerged as a common thread amongst all of her studies. In 2016, she traveled to Kenya to work with a NGO in Nairobi to evaluate the effectiveness of a sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) resource tool the organization had developed to be put to use in an informal settlement. Later that year, she also worked in a consultant-capacity in Cape Town, South Africa with micro-entrepreneurs that had designed a business to create a foundation for social connections and employ refugee women from other African nations.

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