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Recognition for Kusum Vyas at climate summits in UK and Copenhagen

By Kalyani Giri

(December 21, Houston, Sri Lanka Guardian) Kusum Vyas is outspoken, dedicated. Imbued with intense conviction about the various causes she supports, she throws herself heart and soul into creating awareness of them. Her interests run the diverse gamut from spearheading the Gulf of Mannar World Heritage Site Campaign that is pivotal to the preservation of the sacred Ram Sethu, to raising funds for a troupe of blind dancers from India, to encouraging people to be more eco-friendly, and to saving the Asiatic lion and the gharial - two of the most critically endangered species on this planet from extinction. There’s no doubt that she is genuine beyond reproach. Not once has she expected to personally gain anything other than the satisfaction of helping making a positive change. More often than not, she defrays costs out of her own pocket. Vulnerable, she is first to admit when having faith in the faithless has burned her. Yet when any of her projects yields by her exacting standards, likeable results, and her enthusiasm is quite irrepressible and infectious.

A familiar face in Houston, the past two months have been particularly hectic for Kusum Vyas. She’s been to London and shaken hands with a bona fide prince, and dashed off to attend the COP 15 conference in Copenhagen. Her appearances at these two events, both directed at safeguarding the planet, recently garnered Vyas international recognition. She was specially selected as one of seven speakers and the only Hindu delegate to address distinguished guests and world faith leaders at the “Many Heavens, One Earth” celebratory conference hosted by Prince Philip and co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a faith-based environmental organization co-founded by Prince Philip in 1995. Keynote speaker at the event was His Excellency Ban Ki-moon. UN Development Policy (UNDP) Bureau Director Olav Kjorven along with a plethora of religious and spiritual leaders from the diverse global faith communities and representatives of a wide range of environmentalists were in attendance. The celebration, widely covered by world media, was held November 2 – 4, 2009 at the historical Windsor Castle, home of Queen Elizabeth 11 and her consort Prince Phillip. Representatives of the leading religious institutions committed to more than 30 ambitious multi-year plans across the nine-faiths. The meet aimed strategically at nudging the world's politicians to put climate change at the top of the global agenda.

An active and vocal environmentalist, Kusum Vyas was hand-selected by ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer to elaborate on the Hindu Climate Change Plan, having had been impressed by her level of commitment to save the Earth’s environment. At the Windsor function, Vyas inspired organizers and leaders alike with her depth of knowledge and her passion not only for the preservation of the Gulf of Mannar, but her devotion for the living planet

“I truly believe that inside each of us lies a wealth of power to learn how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other, and future generations. It is within our power to make the changes that show our respect for the earth that gives us sustenance,” said Vyas.

At a vegan luncheon hosted by His Royal Highness Prince Phillip at Windsor Castle, Vyas got to meet with the prince.

The Windsor summit preceded the COP 15 summit in Copenhagen that took place a month later which Vyas attended as a delegate. She met with Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Following the Supreme Court of India's directive in 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh instituted a six-member expert committee headed by Dr. Pachauri to look at an alternative alignment for the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project. With specific intent to reiterate that need, Vyas urged Dr. Pachauri to recognize the sacred, ecological and environmental importance of the Gulf of Mannar and to lend his support to the international campaign asking the Government of India to nominate the Gulf of Mannar as a World Heritage site. Dr. Pachauri promised to “do something”. While at Copenhagen, Vyas also held meetings with the UNDP and followed up on the proposal to form an international network of pilgrimage cities, a concept that was proposed at the Windsor meeting. Vyas has been nominated to be on the steering committee, a noteworthy achievement for a fearless crusader.

Kusum Vyas was born in Nairobi and grew up in Kampala. She was educated in the US and is married to Yogesh, her best friend. The couple has two children. Vyas has long been the key organizer in bringing attention to the plight of the ecologically fragile and religiously significant Mannar Strait between India and Sri Lanka, the calving grounds for the whale populations of Bengal, which have been threatened by proposals for a ship canal. The canal was to have cut through Ram Sethu, which Hindus believe was created by Lord Rama to rescue his wife Sita. Kusum is founder of Living Planet Foundation and Esha Vasyam, both US based non-profit organizations and Energy and Environmental Management Research Institute (EEMRI), an international NGO in Kenya. Currently, Kusum is leading the efforts to have gharial exhibits at the Houston and London Zoos.

(The writer can be reached at kalyanikgiri@aol.com )
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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