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Kusum Vyas: A Fearless Crusader for a Healthy Planet

A Fearless Crusader for a Healthy Planet

Kusum Vyas is outspoken, dedicated. Imbued with intense conviction about the various causes she supports, she throws herself heart and soul into creating awareness about 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 crocodile 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, her enthusiasm is quite irrepressible and infectious.

A Fearless Crusader for a Healthy Planet

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 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 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 co-hosted by the United Nations and Prince Phillip's UK – based international Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).

Keynote speaker at the event was 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 environmentalists were in attendance. The celebration, widely covered by world media, was held November 2 – 4, 2009 at the Windsor Castle, home to Queen Elizabeth 11 and her consort Prince Phillip. ARC is a secular body that helps major religions of the world to develop their own environmental programs using their own core teachings, beliefs and practices.

An active and vocal environmentalist, Kusum Vyas was hand-picked by ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer to elaborate on the Hindu Nine Year Plan, having had been impressed by her level of commitment when he had briefly made her acquaintance at an unrelated social event in London over a year ago. At the Windsor function, Vyas inspired all with her knowledge and passion for the preservation of the Gulf of Mannar and to the living planet. She discussed the guidelines prepared by the Oxford Center for Hindu Studies (OCHS) to lead an effort to draw up a Hindu Nine Year Plan to address climate change. “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.” At a vegan luncheon hosted by Prince Phillip at Windsor Castle, Vyas got to meet with the prince.

The Many Heavens, One Earth initiative preceded the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen that took place a month later. Upon her return, Vyas left for Copenhagen as an invited guest where she met with Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winning UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up by the UN in 1988. Following the Supreme Court of India's directive in 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh instituted a sixmember expert committee headed by Rajendra K. Pachauri to look at an alternative alignment, avoiding the Ram Sethu stretch, for implementing the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel 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 India to nominate the Gulf of Mannar as a World Heritage site. Dr. Pachauri immediately agreed positively, complimenting Vyas on her dedication to a significant cause. The IPCC proposed a Green Sacred Cities project collaboratively with the UN and Vyas has been nominated to be on the steering committee, a noteworthy achievement for a fearless crusader.

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 that would cut through it. She 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 a gharial exhibit at the Houston Zoo.