For the past two years, brothers Josh and Max Kamalarajah from Wallace High School in Lisburn, Northern Ireland have had winning entries in the annual YRE International Competition. In 2018 they both won first prize for their Litter Less Campaign video “Food Waste” and this year for best photograph (11-14 yr-old) “It’s time for wake up to the problem of plastic!“ in the Litter Less Campaign.
Quite an achievement! So FEE Head Office decided we wanted to know more about these inspiring brothers and why environmental issues are so important to them?
How does it feel to be a winner both last year and this year?
Josh: Amazing! We just couldn’t believe it.
Max: Yes, we have really enjoyed looking at all the national winning entries from all over the world on the YRE Exposure Page. It must have been a tough decision for the judges.
How did you come up with the idea for this year’s winning photograph?
Josh: We wanted to create a photograph that evoked powerful emotions and made people stop and think. We thought that a child buried in plastic would be an immediate attention grabber.
In order to produce the photograph however, we started to collect all the plastic that we used at home from before Christmas until February this year. We asked our aunts and uncles and grandparents to do the same. The results of this exercise were horrifying! Cumulatively, we had gathered enough plastic to bury a child alive!
Max: As a family we had shamefully been oblivious to the sheer quantities of plastic that we were using. That’s when we came up with the idea of the visual metaphor of a child sleeping peacefully in bed blissfully unaware of the dangerous plastic duvet piling up around them just as many of us are closing our eyes to the devastating effects that plastic pollution is having on our planet.
We acknowledged that it was “Time to wake up to the problem of plastic!” and we hope that our photograph might open other people’s eyes to the magnitude and reality of our planet’s plastic problem.
How did you come up with the idea of last year’s winning video?
Josh: In 2018 The Northern Ireland Litter Less Campaign team made “Food Waste” the theme of the National YRE competition. During our research the uncovering of statistics such as “1.3 billion tonnes of food, enough to feed 3 billion people, is wasted ever year” was enough to make us believe that food wastage is a crime against humanity. This gave us the idea of making a campaign video in the form of a crime report.
Max: We added some humour to capture our audience’s attention but at the same time challenged the viewer to consider whether they were the hero or the villain when it comes to food wastage.
Have you been doing any other activities within the Litter Less Campaign?
Josh and Max: Last year we were invited to give a talk on the second SDG, “Global Hunger”, at the Green-Schools Global Goals Conference in Dublin and we have participated in a beach and park clean up through the Litter Less Campaign. We have also attended excellent workshops on environmental issues organised by eco-schools-ni.
What advice would you give to other young people who are interested in getting involved in environmental issues?
Josh and Max: We would say go for it - get involved now! It is imperative that young people play a key role in protecting the future of this wonderful planet that they are hoping to enjoy for years to come. Don’t underestimate the difference you can make by being an environmental role model at home, in your school or in your local community. Collecting plastic for our photograph served to highlight the extent of plastic usage within our own family circle and subsequently encouraged change. As a start we would recommend YRE. It is an amazing opportunity to be a reporter and raise awareness of environmental issues on a world stage. Small ripples can make big waves!
When it comes to looking after nature who are your heroes and why?
Josh: Greta Thunberg is one of our environmental heroes. She has proven that age is not a barrier to being determined, being heard and creating change.
Max: Closer to home we have been inspired by amazing teachers who care deeply about nature. In primary school Mrs Jackson who ran our Eco-Committee stimulated our initial enthusiasm. She encouraged us to speak out at Environmental Youth Speak (organised by LCCC) from the age of 10. At Wallace High School Miss McKee has continued to inspire and support us and suggested that we enter the YRE competition.
YRE Is one of five programmes administrated by the Foundation for Environmental Education.