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Aarush Sudamalla

Charter School of Wilmington, 10th grade

On the day I came into the world, April 22nd, people around the world celebrate Earth Day which is a day dedicated to honoring our planet, raising awareness about environmental issues, and advocating for environmental protection. Being born on Earth Day always added a special significance to my life growing up, as it symbolizes a connection to the Earth and its well-being. It was a constant reminder of my responsibility to take care of our planet and ensure a secure and sustainable place to live for future generations to come. We are bestowed with the responsibility and are constantly reminded of the importance of preserving and cherishing our natural world. I grew up always wondering how the future would be and what could we do to make it a better place. But why just wonder when I can do something and make a difference while at the same time motivating my peers to do the same and believe in the cause? 

Often, we do not appreciate things around us, the environment is one of the many things that impact our lives. We are so busy getting on with our lives that we do not realize how much we are destroying our surroundings. Through my collaboration with Sussex Health and Environmental Network (SHEN), I was introduced to Sussex Manor, down South in Seaford, an agricultural zone filled with people of Latinx origin who live in trailer homes, and they had a story to tell. The whole economy in the area is built on poultry with multiple housing containers for chickens in a 1-mile radius. All of the poultry waste from these facilities is placed on the land surrounding the communities polluting the air, and the runoff from the waste contaminates the drinking water. Additionally, a site nearby is the future house of a proposed biogas facility which would bring 250,000 tons of poultry waste from nearby states to produce natural gas and eventually make profits. But of all this waste, only 12% is broiler litter and the rest 88% is for poultry processing plant waste or something called DAF. The waste is put through an anaerobic digester that extracts methane, which is harmful to the air, and secondly at the end is a byproduct that gets applied to the fields adding to the contamination instead of reducing it. Furthermore, just because of this facility, the truck traffic will be up to 200 tanker trucks per day adding to air pollution that’s already in the area due to the Amazon distribution trucks. When you think about it, this plant causes many issues and it is being sold to the public to get rid of small farmers’ waste. Still, when you run the numbers, you soon realize that 12 percent of the 250,000 tons proposed to come into the facility wouldn’t even have any effect or help get the poultry waste off of the fields in a meaningful way. The people in this community were not aware of all these health problems, and in collaboration with the Sussex Health Environmental Network, I tried to reach out to the residents to educate them about this biogas facility. While I initially was met with hesitance from the residents, I was able to talk to a couple of families and I soon realized that they did not even know that the biogas facility was being built, let alone the health risks that may arise. The company in charge of making the biogas facility had not even informed the farmers about the plant and this means the people didn’t have a say in the process. This decision to build the plant was in other words sneakily coerced, without informing the people and giving them a part in the process. Also, remember this zone is specifically marked for agriculture and not the right place to build the biogas facility in zones/regions which was a violation they conveniently decided to oversee or cover up. We could see the many schemes and injustices that were taking place in this community, and SHEN and I decided to pursue justice for them.

As I continued in my endeavors, I made every attempt to talk to some of the community members that we were closely connected with or I would say came forward to talk to us and tried to find plausibility to make a change and advocate for the rights of the people, however, this would be a very long and difficult process that needed more firepower and a plan. Our plan was multistep and consisted of first making an initial connection with the people who lived within the community but we had to take into consideration that these people’s primary language was Spanish/Haitian Creole and not English which was a problem that there was a language barrier and secondly, a lot of these people were immigrants who were scared to see any people with a camera or let’s say from another nationality, in the assumption that they could be government officials trying to take what belonged to them at the time. This is where Latino Initiative Restorative Injustice (LIRJ) came in as they helped us overcome the language barrier and also planned to help us obtain the contact information of people that we would later use to raise as leaders and conduct repeated community meetings to spread our message. Our efforts culminated in great success as we were able to obtain the contact information of more than twenty people but soon, we realized we had the bigger obstacle we had to overcome. How do we have the recurring meetings or feed people at these meetings? Fundraising was one of our options but on the other hand, I decided to pursue writing grants explaining the situation and outlining our ideas. I started to analyze the different ways to write a proper grant and what elements were included in a successful grant following which I incorporated all the elements I had learned into a couple of grants and submitted them hoping for good news after which I plan to move forward.

But this idea of trying to find justice for these underprivileged people down in Seaford and many others affected by environmental injustices should not stop with just me. I believe in being able to spread the news to youth who can make a difference out there by volunteering their time, talking to these people, understanding their problems, and helping them advocate for themselves. We can find a multitude of environmental restorative organizations around Delaware like SHEN and LIRJ that are looking for young minds like me to believe in the cause and join hands with them to fight for our cause and make the world a better place. Who better to get to work than today’s young minds to save the earth and secure the future for themselves and many others?

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