Walkathon 2020 - Wake Up, Walk Up!

15 January 2020

“Climate change is a major threat to much of the developing world, and it needs to be looked at with great care” - His Highness, The Aga Khan IV, July 2017.

Unseasonal rainfall. Rising temperatures. Rising sea levels. Extinction of species. Melting glaciers… These phenomenon are the result of climate change, caused by global warming… the list is long and our planet is running out of time! Climate change is no longer something that can be ignored or put off – it is a reality today! Each of us is responsible for reducing our carbon footprint.

In order to increase awareness of this important issue, Aga Khan Education Service, India (AKESI), a part of the Aga Khan Development Network (akdn.org), organised Walkathon 2020, in association with Diamond Jubilee High School (ICSE) and Diamond Jubilee High School (Girls) in Mumbai.

Over the days leading up to the event, a number of activities were undertaken by the students to increase awareness within and outside their schools. These included competitions, street plays and interviews with various people. The themes canvassed ranged from reuse/recycle and waste segregation, to saving water/saving electricity, to saying no to single-use plastic and planting more trees. The school has also collected 21,000 multi-layered plastic packets, the highest collection in the vicinity and among neighbouring schools.  It has all been sent for recycling.

Due to the overwhelming response to the Walkathon, online registrations had to be closed two days before the event, when the number of entries crossed 2000. This positive reaction shows that the people of India have risen to the issues of global warming and are keen to do something to reduce their carbon footprint. To increase knowledge, the schools put up a number of informative “Did you know” boards that provided facts about climate change and its impact, and student art work and thoughts on the subject were displayed at the school premises.

The flag off signaling the beginning of the Walkathon, was done by a school alumnus, Ms Noorjehan Safia Naz (co-founder of the BMMA, a national movement that is trying to bring about a change in the patriarchal systems setup in India). The school bands led the walk, ensuring a steady pace and creating the tempo for the 2000+ participants. It was fun and energizing to see the students and parents so charged up, picketing with their placards (also made from recycled paper/cardboard) and chanting slogans during their march. The event was inclusive, with active participation from neighbouring schools, and including students with special needs and disabilities.

Safety and security planning was seamlessly managed by the AKDN volunteers with the traffic police also keeping a vigil at the major junctions. First aid booths and eco-friendly water junctions were in place, and a cardiac ambulance was kept on standby.

Prizes were handed out by the National Council President and AKDN representative for India, Mr Ashish Merchant, to the top three parent participants, who had dressed themselves to represent the cause, and created interesting placards and slogans.

At the conclusion of the Walkathon, every participant was given a set of three daily-use cloth bags to replace plastic and carry the message forward. In alignment with the theme of saving paper, e-certificates were awarded to the participants.

“Environmental sustainability is an important agenda for the AKDN. While the focus was on the issue of climate change, the children have taught us something far more relevant for the current times. They have exemplified the values that AKDN stands for, those of unity, respect, collaboration and pluralism. It was very inspiring to see the children, parents, alumni and teachers, from varied backgrounds, cultures, faiths and languages, all coming together as one united team, and working towards this cause. This cannot remain a one-time event – we must endeavour to make this an ongoing process to create a longer term and sustainable impact.” said Farhad Merchant, CEO, AKESI at the culmination of the event.

The Walkathon 2020 on Jan 12, which coincided with the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, is just the beginning of a journey towards change! And, as he said, “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached”.

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