These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Muhammad Ansar and his team at Human Nature Projects Ontario (HNP) provide local youth a fresh look at the possibilities for transforming natural spaces to make them more livable for all species.

The 22-year-old Ansar, Grade 11 student Kiyan Sajadi, and co-founder 21-year-old Srija Das share the leadership involved in engaging over 1,500 young people to date in environmental conservation, protection and education.

Muhammad Ansar Muhammad and his entire HNP executive team at Toronto’s Centennial Park for a cleanup event that welcomed 150-plus volunteers. Photo submitted

Tell us about your project.

Since 2020, HNP has hosted 10 different events. For example, we ran cleanups in places like Centennial Park and High Park in Toronto as well as Samuel Connor Pond in Brampton and collected well over 100 bags of trash with the help of 500-plus youth.

We collaborated with Toronto Nature Stewards to participate in invasive species removals, such as dog-strangling vines. We helped 20-plus youth measure and decrease their personal carbon footprints over a period of three weeks. We also offered eco-career seminars so young people can learn how to get involved in climate and environmental protection. We hosted virtual conversations with Indigenous student leaders to allow us to develop a greater sensitivity to their ways of seeing and teachings. In 2023, we will do all of this and more.

Muhammad Ansar and his team collected 30-plus bags of garbage from Samuel Connor Pond last October. Photo submitted

How did HNP get started?

Muhammad Ansar and his team at Human Nature Projects Ontario provide local youth with a fresh look at the possibilities for transforming natural spaces to make them more livable for all species. #YouthClimateAction

I emigrated from Pakistan with my family when I was 13. Later in high school, I returned to visit Karachi, my home city, and I was shocked to see that garbage piling up on the streets had become normal. I could see that it would not do much to get rid of one pile of garbage. Real change will only come with the combination of widespread raised awareness and action. I came back to Canada determined to do both. My friend Srija Das shared my determination and we began. Our first in-person project was the High Park cleanup and it was such a success, we have never looked back. Younger people like Kiyan bring passion, drive and good ideas and keep our leadership team fresh.

Muhammad Ansar with his fellow co-executive directors at HNP Ontario: Kiyan Sajadi (left) and Srija Das (middle). Photo submitted

How do you work so you accomplish both goals?

People really enjoy our events because we have created a respectful and positive community that welcomes all and is a part of climate resilience. Our events are very well-organized and because we are genuinely interested in building a community, volunteers respond with curiosity about why we are doing the things we do and what we hope to achieve. For example, while cleaning up High Park is a good thing to do, participants really appreciated knowing we were part of a much bigger Clean Toronto Together initiative, with many different groups working together. They also bring good ideas themselves and we try to integrate them into our work.

What makes your work hard?

It can feel overwhelming, but as long as I can remember that we are part of many, I stay hopeful.

What kind of future are you working towards?

As long as humans think of themselves as a separate superior species, we will not be safe. I dream of a society that realizes the importance of environmental action and protecting biodiversity in order to create a planet that is livable for all species.

Muhammad Ansar with his parents. Photo submitted

Tell us how you were raised impacts you.

My parents were middle-class in Pakistan and I was taught to serve those less fortunate than me. Now we are low-income but the teaching remains. Indigenous people are already much more severely impacted by the multiple environmental crises we face and those who come into the world after me will have it harder than I do unless we all act to save what is still worth saving.

You are a full-time student and you have a part-time job. How do you find the time?

This is not a hobby or sideline for me. This is who I am and who I must be to show up in the world with integrity.

Muhammad Ansar’s team, HNP Ontario, was awarded a $870 grant from Canada Post in 2022 to continue their ongoing community initiatives. Photo submitted

Do you have any advice for other young people?

We need everyone engaged, and taking care of yourself will help you to play your part. We know that taking action and building community are two great antidotes to despair. Find a not-for-profit that is doing what you think is important and ask how you can help. They need you more than you think. It might feel small but it does not have to be big to matter. What matters is that you take the first step. It will also be very good for your mental health.

What about older readers?

You might feel that our changing climate is not affecting you personally but we still need you in these conversations. You have wisdom and experience and we do not have time to learn everything from scratch. When you take leadership, know we are heartened. I am so inspired by my friend Bill Godfrey, the founder of People Against Littering (P.A.L.), whose mission is to make Brampton litter-free in the next few years. He started P.A.L. when he was 70 years old.