(May 27, 2023) Six years ago, when a grade X Indian-Canadian student, Abhayjeet Singh Sachal, visited the northernmost continent on the planet, he was completely mesmerised by its landscape. Covered in white ice, the Arctic looked nothing short of a magical land to Abhay. On an educational trip with 100 other students from various countries, the young environmentalist was able to learn a great deal about climate change and its effects, more than what he did at his school.
However, as the 14-year-old was busy making notes of the environmental issues, he encountered a piece of information that he had never heard of – how these changes were affecting the day-to-day lives of people, including alcohol/drug abuse, mental health issues, and high suicide rates. “I was concerned that no one spoke about these issues,” expresses the young environmentalist, as he connects with Global Indian, from Malawi, where he is studying the factors behind the country’s successful COVID response.
On his return to Canada, Abhay gave a lowdown to his elder brother Sukhmeet, and the siblings decided to create a platform that can help youngsters from various communities voice their concerns. And thus, Break the Divide – a non-profit that promotes global awareness among youth – was born. The organisation, which was started in a school in British Columbia, Canada, has about nine chapters today, including one in South Africa and Taiwan. “Climate change is affecting our lives. We wanted to establish a platform where people can speak about their issues without any hesitation,” shares Abhay, who is counted among the top 10 International Youth Changemakers in Canada.
Born in Amritsar, Punjab, he moved to Canada with his family in 2002, when he was all of 11 months old. The son of a journalist father and interior designer mother, the young environmentalist credits his family for his connection with nature. “One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my father taking me and my brother to the local parks and forest for a walk. I loved spending time in nature. I remember, my brother was involved in community service, and that motivated me to look into various social issues quite early,” he shares.
A brilliant student, Abhay took part in various extracurricular activities in school. The youngster also played club-level ice hockey. Encouraged by his family, Abhay joined his school’s Green Team, which was an environmental club focusing on sustainable initiatives. In 2016, when he was just 14, Abhay applied for a scholarship to be a part of the Students on Ice, a non-profit foundation that helps students understand the importance of the earth’s poles through group expeditions. “I received a $12,000 scholarship for a three-week excursion to the Arctic. There were about 100 students from across the globe and 100 educators, including scientists, historians, and musicians, who went on that trip,” shares the youngster, exclaiming that the trip was a “life-changing experience.”
“Till that visit, I had only read about climate change. But it was in the Arctic that I experienced it first-hand. I witnessed the melting glaciers to the effects of weather change on the local wildlife. What hit me the most was how these changes were affecting the lives of people,” adds Abhay, who resolved to do something about the issue, and later started Break the Divide.
Bringing communities together
Many students from Abhay’s school joined the organisation after its launch, and spread the word through social media. Soon, other schools from various parts of Canada joined in to form a chapter of Break the Divide. “Some years back, students in Cape Town also formed a chapter to talk about the water crisis in their local community. They even started a campaign to save water,” shares Abhay, who is currently pursuing a double major in Global Health and Peace & Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.
A key presenter at various international conferences on environment-related issues, Abhay was recently recognised as Canada’s Top 25 Under 25 Environmentalists and was featured as one of 10 International Youth Changemakers in Canada. “There is much work to be done. We are working on the Break the Divide Indian chapter, which will address the religious, geographical, and political divisions among the people. We are also expanding our reach in other countries – addressing not just climate change, but also mental health among people. We also want to work with the LGBTQ+ community,” he signs off.