Catalyst for Change

Catalyst for Change

Children's book author Sara Bharwani ’24 has a lot of little fans — and a few big ones too!

When most students returned from Long Winter Weekend, they shared stories about skiing or snowboarding trips, the colleges they visited, or the sleep they caught up on. Sara Bharwani ’24, on the other hand, shared how she met His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, Her Majesty Queen Máxima, and Her Royal Highness Catharina-Amalia, Princess of Orange, on the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ visit to Sint Maarten, the Dutch portion of the island of Saint Martin. The opportunity to meet the Royal Family came as a result of the children’s book she recently wrote and the environmental work she began when she was thirteen years old.

Sara introduces her book to King Willem-Alexander (left), Princess Catharina-Amalia (middle), and Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs (right).

Sara was one of the youth entrepreneurs’ exhibitions on the Royal Walk organized by the Cultural Department. The Royal Family stopped for nearly five minutes to speak with Sara about the book she wrote. “I thought they would only talk to me for a few seconds and then continue on their way,” says Sara. “I only had a two-minute speech prepared. But when they stayed longer, I kept talking about my book, and they seemed very interested.” Before departing from Sara’s table, Queen Máxima asked to take a copy of the book home with her. “The whole thing was nerve-racking but great.”

The children’s book Sara wrote is Kim Saves the Ocean. In the story, the main character, a young girl named Kim, and her drinking straw friend, Emmy, are on a quest to clean up Sint Maarten. “It’s great for young readers to see someone who looks like them — in places they know, such as the Great Bay and floodgates — having a positive impact on the environment,” explains Sara.

Sara signs books at her soft book launch.

Prior to meeting the Royal Family, Sara held a soft launch party for her book. Young guests heard the audiobook’s narrator, Head of the Department of Culture Clara Reyes, read Sara’s book aloud and had the opportunity to have their book signed by Sara. “Many of the children knew the plot of the book, and one boy in particular was so excited,” reminisces Sara. “That was very fulfilling.”

When asked which event from her short trip home during Long Winter Weekend Sara would never forget, she couldn’t decide. “Both were amazing and surreal,” Sara expressed. “I had two major life events in one week. I’ll remember both forever.”

Sara’s experience as a young sustainability champion is what inspired her book. More than five years ago, when Sara was in middle school, Hurricane Irma devastated the island of Saint Martin. The debris from the storm was collected in the dump near Sara’s school and often caught fire, filling the air with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Sara and other island residents had to wear masks to protect themselves from the harmful smoke. This frightening and confusing experience motivated her to take a stand.

Sara at a school service fair with her Breathe Better Air Campaign.

Sara created the Breathe Better Air Campaign to raise awareness. She raised $1,000, wrote articles for her local publications, made videos about the environmental effects, and participated in her school’s and community’s service fairs. The following year, the fires were soon extinguished. 

Sara could have easily rested on her laurels and gone back to being a regular teenager. The experience fired her up. “It was pretty cool to be part of something that brought about change. I wondered what was next and thought that advocacy work might be my calling,” shared Sara. Seeing the amount of waste in the dump is what inspired her to take on her new cause — banning single-use plastics on the island. She was quickly becoming a catalyst for change. Sara appeared on local radio stations to talk about the ban on single-use plastics and presented to a group of environmentally friendly businesses and NGOs. Sara helped gather petition signatures and participated in a multi-radio station simultaneous streaming event on sustainability. In the fall of 2020, the Parliament of Sint Maarten approved the ban of single-use plastics, and the implementation rolled out in 2021.

In 2020, Sara received the inaugural Governor’s Youth Award for Excellence in Environmental Protection — the highest recognition on the island. “I was so honored to receive the award,” said Sara. “It led to many opportunities, including serving as a member of the Youth Parliament.” 

On the Hilltop, Sara is continuing to explore how to make an impact on the environment. She will travel to Costa Rica during the Project: Pomfret period with her Global and Sustainable Development class to explore the complex relationships between governments, economies, societies, and the planet’s physical environment. She plans to pursue a sustainability certificate and is considering an independent study to continue her research to investigate the feasibility of a community composting program on the island.

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