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AUS EcoReps contribute to sustainability initiatives with global impact
Two American University of Sharjah community members are contributing to environmental conservation through their roles at Blue Forest, a leading organization in mangrove forest restoration on a global scale.
Ishraq Abdalla, a 2021 graduate of AUS with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a concentration in environmental biology and ecosystems, is a Blue Carbon Analyst at Blue Forest. She is involved in mangrove restoration projects, where degraded mangroves are protected or replanted to restore the ecosystem and enhance the amount of carbon captured by mangrove trees, known as blue carbon. As an analyst, she plays a crucial role in curating essential project documentation, working towards the protection of mangrove ecosystems and advocating for policy actions in project locations. Moreover, in her current role, she also researches livelihood alternatives for coastal communities that depend on these mangrove ecosystems, such as aquafarming and fuelwood extraction.
"My environmental science background has kept me well-grounded in the urgency to research the impact of climate and displacement, especially in Sudan. I have recently coalesced with fellow Global South climate justice activists in the fearless trials to innovate newer models of financing consistent support flows from the Global North, enabling resilience building in communities most affected by the crisis," she said.
Abdalla is a Sudanese climate justice advocate and co-founder of Me&Youth, Climate Youth in Conflict, and the Afrabia Climate Project—initiatives she began after graduating from AUS. She works to build climate resilience and educate people about climate-related issues by leveraging the creative and cultural expressions of diaspora communities. Abdalla utilizes the unique cultural perspectives and creative talents of these communities to raise awareness and educate people about climate issues. While at AUS, she also played a role in launching and influencing various programs that aimed to promote sustainability and climate literacy in higher education in the Arab region. She was also an AUS EcoRep, a student peer-to-peer education program aimed at helping students find their role in the wider field of sustainability and climate action, regardless of their chosen major.
"My ongoing advocacy work centers on enabling youth through intergenerational dialogues, capacity-building, youth advisory roles, participatory grantmaking and decision making and more. This has allowed me to deeply connect with grassroots organizations, primarily from the most affected people and areas [communities that suffer the most from the effects of climate change], where I understood the greater impact of building regenerative systems,” she said.
Combining her communication skills and passion for sustainability, Amal Fathima Haneef, a current AUS student majoring in English language and literature and minoring in journalism, developed her interest in environmentalism during her early involvement in the AUS Sustainability Club and her role as an AUS EcoRep.
Haneef's commitment to sustainability led her to an internship at Blue Forest, where she currently serves as a marketing and communications intern. In this role, she's been instrumental in managing social media; writing articles, blog posts and press releases; and handling public relations. In addition, she was also involved in research and has drafted a report on the Top 30 Mangrove Countries as well as a proposal for the Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC). She was one of the six team members chosen to work on this project in collaboration with MOCC.
"My internship at Blue Forest has been a transformative experience. I've had the opportunity to apply my academic knowledge to real-world scenarios, and it's reinforced my passion for sustainability and environmental conservation,” she said.
Haneef's journey won’t end with her internship; she has been offered a full-time position with Blue Forest upon graduation. She is currently working on her senior thesis, which explores the impact of sustainable campaigns and communication on individuals' perceptions of sustainability and their incorporation of sustainable practices in their daily lives.
"My journey from the AUS Sustainability Club, where I served as treasurer, vice president, and media adviser, to my current role as an EcoRep has taught me that genuine transformation starts from within. Focusing on campus and food sustainability, I've initiated and contributed to vital projects like increasing student volunteering opportunities, promoting mindful eating and reducing our carbon footprint. Through grassroots efforts, I aim to empower individuals to recognize the connection between their actions and the health of our planet, inspiring a more sustainable and environmentally conscious campus,” she said.
Abdalla’s and Haneef's journeys demonstrate the transformative power of AUS education and are examples of the university's commitment to nurturing future sustainability champions.
“It fills me with immense joy and pride to see AUS students apply the knowledge and values they have learned during their time at AUS to excel in sustainability-focused careers. Through their commitment and dedication, they are advancing the UAE’s sustainability agenda and actively supporting the nation’s net-zero by 2050 strategy. Their success is a testament to our long-standing AUS EcoRep program. I wish Ishraq and Amal all the success for their future journey and am confident that they will be true changemakers in their chosen field,” said Julia Carlow, Acting Head of Sustainability at AUS and EcoRep program supervisor.
Vahid Fotuhi, CEO and Founder of Blue Forest, also said: “At Blue Forest, we have had a number of current and recent graduates from AUS join us over the past few years. Our recruits from AUS have consistently outperformed students from other local and international universities when it comes to environmental studies and climate knowledge.”