While many people Ishaan's age play video games at home, unsure what they want to do in the future, Ishaan has found a passion about creating positive change. He has given multiple talks, won awards and founded his own organisation Stolen Dreams UK to educate people about slavery. We need more people like Ishaan in this world and we really believe he will go on to make a big impact so we interviewed him about what he's been doing and why he does it:
My name is Ishaan Shah and I am a sixteen-year-old student from London, UK. In 2016, at the age of thirteen, I saw a documentary about child trafficking and exploitation which changed my life. The following week at school, I discovered that none of my peers (156 children) were aware of this issue. A few months later, I founded Stolen Dreams (http://stolendreams.co.uk), a website and communications organisation to get young people to engage with and actively drive positive action around human trafficking, gender equality and climate change. Since then, I have spread my message widely across social media, on podcasts, blogs, through public speaking and teaching children at schools. Ultimately, my goal is to get children talking about these issues, letting them know that they can be a part of the solution, giving them the tools and platform to drive change.
And so, it is at these times of hate, and struggle that I remember Gandhi’s quote, that
“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth."
What gives you hope?
I often visit schools and speak to children aged seven to eighteen on a wide range of topics, from human rights to climate change. When I speak to children, I mostly speak about supply chains and how their decisions as consumers can have an impact. I tell them nearly every product they come into contact with on a daily basis, when it was made, could have harmed humans and the environment. For example, I tell them that some of their favourite chocolate brands include an ingredient called palm oil. I will explain to them that not only is child slavery used to obtain that palm oil, but the demand for palm oil also leads to the destruction of our rainforests, threatening species and displacing them. It is the look of shock on their faces, followed by the determination to act and change their lifestyles which gives me hope. These children, they want to change. They always ask me challenging questions about why this is happening, what businesses are doing to address this, how the government is responding, and they even try to come up with their own solutions. But what gives me the most hope, is that I often get messages from parents and teachers afterwards telling me that their children have forced them to change their lifestyles. From boycotting brands that are damaging the environment and reducing meat consumption, to spreading the word to friends and family, the children of this generation give me hope, because they are willing to go one step further from awareness; they act. They drive positive social change within their community. They might just be kids, but kids can do great things too!
Why is it important that we focus on climate change issues?
It was Wendell Berry that said, “The Earth is what we all have in common.” People do not realise how valuable the planet is. The oceans themselves produce seventy per cent of the planet’s oxygen and even the smallest of creatures are vital in holding together an entire ecosystem. Climate change is threatening our very existence and our future. But it is also causing an increase in a wide range of other global issues including, war, poverty, famine, disease and human trafficking to name a few. We are in a climate crisis; the alarm bells are ringing, and we need to act. We have to make a choice. If we act now, there will be a planet, but if we neglect our natural world, there will be no planet at all. It is vital that we focus on climate change issues now.
How can we as individuals promote sustainability?
We as consumers have so much power! Whenever I speak at schools or public forums, people will always question the impact an individual consumer will actually have. I believe that our ‘green’ journey starts by changing the way we each consume. Before you buy something always check to see if that company can tell you who made their products, how much they were paid and whether any harm was done to the environment. If they cannot tell you this basic information, call them out on social media, boycott their brand and demand change. Another way we can consume sustainably is to reduce our meat consumption and buy from sustainable fishing producers. Simultaneously, it is also key to support brands that are eco-friendly. Switch to buying from these brands; lead the way and urge your friends and family to follow. Alternatively buy second hand products whenever you can. Whether it be clothes, cars or furniture, buying second hand is sustainable and helps the environment. Sustainability is the new fashion.
What are your plans for the future?
I am not entirely sure what my plans for the future are. If people keep neglecting the environment, there may not even be a future for my generation and the generations to come! We as children are anxious and scared for our future. But we are also motivated, because we will fight for climate action and reform! I am looking to go into the field of human rights law, policy writing or international relations, all of which I am sure will allow me to play a part in tackling some of the greatest human rights issues of our time, gender inequality and climate change.