‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’

Speech given by Sarah Lieberson of the Cuomo Foundation at the opening day of Mambakkam’s Amala Annai High School.

The opening celebrations coincided with the World Environment Day 2018, held on June 5, 2018, a global even in which India was appointed the hosting country.

Hello and Good Morning boys and girls,

My name is Sarah Lieberson and I am here today to represent the Cuomo Foundation.

What is the Cuomo Foundation?

We are a small European organization working in India, Africa and Europe.

Our actions support access to education, medical and social welfare and also research and projects in tackling climate change.

The Cuomo Foundation first started its work in Tamil Nadu in 2001-when many of you here today had not even been born!

We built our first school in Kovalam to help children, just like you, have opportunities to learn in well-equipped proper safe school buildings.

Since those early years we have built many more schools for primary and secondary age children and also dormitories.

Amala Annai, your new school, is the 7th school we have built.

But this is a very different and very special school ?


Because it is a green build, environmentally friendly school.

This is the first green school we have built and this special school, your school, has been given an extra important award. It has been awarded the Platinum level from the Indian Green Building Council. This is the first time a school in Tamil Nadu has been given this.

What does a green school mean?

Well, in a very simplified way, it means that this school has been built using materials that are not harmful to the environment, to the area that you live in. I will let my colleagues here today, who are the real experts , explain it all to you in detail in a few minutes time.

Why did we decide to build this school in this different way – a green way?

Because all of us—all over the world, everywhere and no matter if you are rich or poor— are experiencing the damaging effects of climate change today.

Water scarcity and pollution are the 2 biggest challenges for India today

Even in your young lives you have felt the effects

  • when the days are just too hot
  • or when the rain comes and doesn’t ever seem to stop
  • or there is not enough drinking water
  • or the farmers crops fail and there is not enough to eat

These changes in weather conditions are because, we, as humans, are creating too much pollution and our atmosphere cannot protect our fragile planet any more.

But something can be done, we all have the power

We, as humans, can change our ways and do positive things, helpful actions to start to protect what we have left.

This school is an example of how you can rethink and make a better school for a better environment.

All resources are local. Our female architect was born and brought up in Chennai. Most of the builders and workers employed to build the school are local, perhaps one of you has a parent or brother or sister that helped build this school that you are now attending.

How does that make you feel?

Proud? Yes. But, far more important is to feel that you now belong to a special pioneering band of young students; you are the people of the future; and you can become committed to respecting the environment and helping others to also learn…

How can we help you to help each other?

Well, we have created a Green Team for the school and it consists of 20 girls and 20 boys, your fellow students. 4 students from each standard.

They will be responsible for helping all of you to learn to respect the environment of your special school and how you teach others outside of school. They are not here to tell you off but to really help and guide you when you might not understand.

If every single one of you contributes to caring, then, there is hope for our planet.

Tomorrow is World Environment Day and your country India, has been chosen to be this year’s global leader.

The theme this year is Beat Plastic Pollution.

So already, I can see a way that all of us can help on this action—by not throwing away in the streets and in the fields any plastic, wether it’s a rubbish bag or a straw or a spoon or whatever, don’t trash it.

Now all of you must have heard of the 3 R’s in education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

Now lets learn the green 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I will end this talk by quoting to you the wise words of your Indian countryman Mahatma Gandhi

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world-

The future depends on what we do in the present”