In many parts of the world, pollution is a big problem. Some citizens lose entire days due to the toxic smog in their atmospheres, making them unable to go outside. Others have piles of land waste so high, they may as well be considered mountains.
Pakistan is one of the countries falling victim to the pollution epidemic. According to the country’s environmental protection department, the country generates about 20 million tons of solid waste, an amount that grows by about 2.4 percent annually. In 10 years, that could easily amount to 213 million pounds of solid waste.
It’s a figure that’s quite upsetting to some people, including 10-year-old Zymal Umer. At such a young age, she has already been crowned Pakistan’s youngest social entrepreneur. Her business, Zeebags, has managed to turn a profit of $4 to $5,000 in only three short years.
Umer was first inspired to create the bags four years ago, when she was on a shopping trip. Distracted by plastic bags in the streets, she became disappointed at the repercussions such pollution could have. “This is a situation you can find across all of Pakistan – these bags are not biodegradable and people carelessly discard them,” she says. “They don’t really think about recycling,”
She learned to create her own bags through Youtube, adorning each bag with personal touches such as flowers and little stones. Her father and grandfather, who are both supportive of the project, pick up the raw materials for her to make into bags. “If they didn’t help me, it would be very hard to keep my project going,” Umer says. Sometimes, she even recruits additional help. “It is hard to balance my schoolwork with running Zeebags, so I make them at the weekend or during the holidays with my cousins.”
The money made from the bags goes to SOS Children’s Villages, a charity that helps orphaned and destitute children in Pakistan. Umer explains that seeing children with access to everyday things they normally wouldn’t have makes her happy. “Through my income, I’ve been able to pay for water coolers, washing machines, batteries and the type of things they need for daily life,” she says. “To see the happiness on their faces gives me a lot of satisfaction and motivation to carry on.”
So far, Umer has received awards from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Pakistan awarded her the TIE for the youngest social entrepreneur in the country. She has also received a gold medal from the Pakistani Federal Secretary of Education, and in Saudi Arabia, she was invited to receive the Prince Abdul Aziz Award for Children Pioneer/Ecopreneur.
“I was very excited to get some international recognition for my work and proud to get some positive exposure for my country and parents,” Umer says of the awards. “In Pakistan it’s thought girls cannot work independently but I haven’t faced any difficulties and my aim is to continue my work,” Through her business, not only is Umer creating paths as a young social entrepreneur – she is also paving the way for other young girls to follow in her footsteps and start their own businesses despite the gendered stigma around them.
Umer is a great example of girls helping society at such a young age. We can only hope that other girls can be like her, standing up for what they believe in and making a difference in the world, even one Zeebag at a time.
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