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July 13, 2010 > Affecting change around the world

Affecting change around the world

By Alyson Whitaker
Photos By Dustin Findley

A single drop of water won't quench your thirst on a hot day. But combine hundreds of tiny droplets together in a glass, and you'll find yourself cooled and refreshed. So it is with changing our world. A single individual or an isolated act of kindness may seem insignificant on its own; but when joined with others, the results can be dramatic.

In 1982, San Francisco environmentalist Shimon Schwarzschild visited Assisi, Italy-once home to St. Francis, the patron saint charged with protecting animals. While on his visit, he discovered that the songbirds of Assisi and nearby Mt. Subasio were being hunted, killed, and eaten by the thousands. These songbirds had been cared for so lovingly by St. Francis more than 800 years earlier. Shimon was outraged, and jumped to action. He joined forces with other nature protectors and environmentalists, and together they formed The Assisi Nature Council. Their mission was to seek permanent protection for Assisi's songbirds and to help people, especially the young, understand that their neighborhood, as well as the entire planet, needed protection from environmental abuse.

As a result of their efforts, there was a worldwide response to save the songbirds of Assisi. In 1984, the city of Assisi agreed to permanently ban the hunting of songbirds on Mt. Subasio, and later the Province of Umbria approved a plan to create a nature preserve on the slopes of the famous mountain.

Following the success in Assisi, Shimon wanted to continue to encourage everyone to take personal action to conserve and restore our planet's environment. The Assisi Nature Council changed their name to Action For Nature to reflect the continuing mission-to "act for nature," encouraging young people to use their own initiative to solve environmental problems.

Action For Nature strives to recognize the efforts of those who are working to make a difference in their communities. Each year, the organization honors young people between the ages of 8 and 16 from around the world who have come up with creative solutions for local environmental problems.

The 2010 International Young Eco-Hero Award winners came from countries all over the globe, with projects widespread and diverse. Here is a listing of just a few of the winners:

Alexander James Zerphy (age 13) from Maryland created a conservation center to protect the endangered horseshoe crab.

Felix Finkbeiner (age 12) from Germany inspired a worldwide effort to plant more than one million trees.

Sarah Connor (age 10) from New York started a non-profit organization called Project LemonAid. Through lemonade stand sales, she is spearheading an effort to replace trees in her town that were cut down.

Liam Bane O'Neil (age 11) from Colorado started a community garden project in a local vacant lot, growing enough produce for his neighborhood.

Gates Bierhuizen (age 15) from Virginia and Jordan Schara (age 15) from Wisconsin both worked on separate projects to create a safe disposal system to keep pharmaceuticals out of local water supplies.

Elodie Sihan (age 16) from the Ivory Coast started a club to end the destructive brush fires in local villages. Her club is now focusing on other issues to maintain a healthy environment.

Each individual project has a positive impact on the environment and is vital in changing the way we live and think on our planet. Applications are now being accepted for the 2011 Eco-Hero Award. They will be judged on originality, difficulty, length of time devoted to the project, degree of success in reaching goals, and the impact on the environment. Projects should be self-initiated and action-based, not assigned by a teacher or adult.

The application deadline is February 28, 2011. Winners will receive public recognition, cash prizes, and certificates for their efforts to help preserve and protect the planet. Equally as important, winners serve as role models for other youth by demonstrating that each and every one of us can make a difference.

Now more than ever, our world is in need of creative ideas and initiatives to better our environment. Through the individual efforts of many, a ripple effect and change will be felt around the world.

For more information on Action For Nature, to read about the 2010 Eco-Hero Award winners, or obtain application details for the 2011 Awards, visit the website at

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