Nature’s Secrets

Environmental youth leaders come to Raleigh

CORRESPONDENTMarch 19, 2012 

Meg Lowman is an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert who directs the Nature Research Center, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?

– Henry David Thoreau

What do a young Philippine clothing designer, an American social networker, an Indian medic, an Ethiopian teacher and a Nigerian farmer have in common?

They are all winners of the first-ever Rolex Young Laureates Awards for Enterprise ( Though best known for their watches, Rolex also funds creative and innovative global environmental leaders, and they recently honored the emerging generation (also known as Generation Z).

Young Ethiopian elementary school teacher Bruktawit Tigabu developed a television show about wellness for kids in a country where child mortality is very high and health education almost nonexistent. Her Rolex award enabled her to take a puppet show “on the road” to remote villages, and create a radio version accessible to 40 million African listeners.

Jacob Colker from California uses mobile phones to harness “micro-volunteerism.” Generation Z volunteers can log onto his website, where hundreds of nonprofits list small tasks ranging from Spanish translations to designing water wells for rural villages. Jacob’s new approach to volunteerism allows young people to aid nonprofits in a virtual fashion, better suited to their tech-savvy spirit and busy schedules.

Growing up in rural Nigeria, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu started a radio program to educate farmers about water conservation. With his Rolex award, he expanded his initial audience to 3.5 million African farmers.

Piyush Tewari from New Delhi, India, established the SaveLIFE Foundation to train a volunteer first-aid corps in a country with the world’s highest automobile fatality rate. Through his efforts, rapid response to accidents has significantly reduced traffic fatalities in urban India.

Reese Fernandez grew up witnessing extraordinary poverty in the Philippines. As a teenager, she took rags and turned them into clothing, both as an environmental recycling action and a source of employment for young mothers without jobs.

As a former Rolex jury member, I am thrilled to welcome the Rolex laureates to Raleigh where they will celebrate the gala opening of the Nature Research Center ( on April 13 and a 24-hour public opening April 20-21. Funded by Rolex, these exemplary global youth will speak at Raleigh-area schools, and conduct the NRC’s first-ever Global Town Hall (sponsored by WRAL) in the SECU Daily Planet technology theater.

Meg Lowman is an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert who directs the Nature Research Center,N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.Online:

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