Aarti Sooknandan was born and raised in Belize City, Belize, where she lived with her mother, father, sister and brother. Her parents, both originally from Guyana, immigrated to Belize in 1986 along with her siblings and had her in 1995.
As a child, she would describe herself as shy and studious, oftentimes having more books than friends. Many of the friends she did have, she met by attending classes at The Ballet Art School in Belize, where she attended since she was a quiet 4 year old.
With dance as her creative outlet during some of her most formative years, she discovered a confidence in herself she didn’t know she had. Now at 26, Aarti is proud to have found her voice and use it to help combat environmental and domestic violence issues in her home country of Belize.
What motivated you to compete for Miss Earth Belize 2021?
AS: I am passionate about raising awareness of key environmental and social issues, specifically domestic violence and gender-based inequalities in my country and advocate for the overall conservation and protection of Belize’s flora and fauna. Miss Earth Belize gives me the ability to combine my two favorite causes together for the good of my country. To do this, I am working with stakeholders to develop programs that match women to job opportunities that would help them achieve financial freedom to escape their abusers. These jobs include working with recycled materials, i.e. mainly plastics. Pageantry gives us a voice far bigger than in our normal lives and I intend to use every opportunity it presents me to advocate for others.
What are the 3 biggest environmental/developmental concerns confronting our country and our people?
AS: Climate change, deforestation, and proper waste disposal are some of the major areas of concern for Belize. The effects of climate change contribute to rising sea temperatures which bleach our coral and endanger marine life, including our famed barrier reef. Deforestation poses a threat due to the increased amount of carbon dioxide emissions and soil erosion. It results in the destruction of forest habitat and the loss of biological diversity. Improper waste disposal allows for the pollution of our land and water supply, affecting the health of our citizens.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people interact with nature/the environment? If so, in what ways?
AS: Yes, the pandemic has changed interactions with the environment and nature as a whole. Many of us are working from home and this has lessened carbon emissions caused by our vehicles during our daily commutes to work. It also seems as if people are much more appreciative of being outdoors since being on lockdown. More people are planting backyard and community gardens again. It is as if we had grown to take nature for granted because it was always present and available. This lockdown made us appreciate just being outdoors, seeing nature, and interacting with our environment in more appreciative ways.
We know you have big plans during your reign as Miss Earth Belize, what environmental issue are you most focused on and why?
AS: Recycling single use plastics into financially viable products for national and global use is first and foremost along with proper waste disposal are key issues I am advocating for during my reign. Both issues can be addressed from a legislative and individual level. Organizing and participating in coastal cleanups affords us ample recycling opportunities available to citizens while working to lessen the amount of plastic and other debri that pollutes our land, sea and waterways. The rippling effects of these and other changes will benefit the lives of many and make for a healthier Belize.
Who or what encourages you the most to lead these meaningful conversations about our planet?
AS: I am inspired by the conservation efforts of so many Belizean environmentalists before me, particularly Janet Gibson, Belizean biologist and zoologist, and the late Sharon Matola, Belizean biologist, environmentalist, and zookeeper. The contribution of these trailblazing women has paved the way for the youth of today combating these issues. I am also motivated to have these conversations because of my deep love for my country and all of the beauty present in it that I see as our duty to protect. Belize is often referred to as Mother Nature’s best kept secret, and I want it to continue to be for generations to come not just in words but in actions.
What different initiatives do you have planned during your time and why do you find them important?
AS: My initiatives aim to encourage Belizeans to care about their impact on our environment by providing information on the various ways we can assist. I have started an Eco-Tip Series where I share ways us as individuals can combat climate change. I have a Podcast Series called ‘ENERGIZE BELIZE” which features Belizeans who are leading the charge of going green and partnering with them on projects. I am organizing a Nation Clean Up Day and partnering with the National Scout Association of Belize, OCEANA, schools and others like minded friends. I also plan to develop a job-matching program for our domestic abuse survivors. These initiatives are important to me because the way a country treats its women and the environment speaks volumes – and I believe they both need our help.
What environmental project have you led or been a part of in the past that you are most proud of?
AS: I am proud of attending several coastal and beach cleanups in the past, so much so that a National Clean Up Day for Belize is a key initiative of mine ad was glad to learn that the Scouts also do one annually which made it easy for me and my team to collaborate with them for this upcoming September 25th weekend. To me, it is one of the best ways to help combat pollution of our waters, protect our marine life, and establish a sense of community with others. I am a big believer in the collective effort of individuals making a real difference, and this is a perfect example of that.
In your lifetime, have you seen environmental change around you? If so, in what ways?
AS: Yes, absolutely! One of the most notable is the rising sea temperatures, which have had a negative effect on marine life in Belize, namely our barrier reef. It has resulted in coral bleaching, leaving many of our once vibrant coral lifeless. I have also noticed that the rising sea temperatures have caused Belize’s hurricanes and storms to become stronger and occur more frequently. Belize is exceptionally vulnerable to these changes as much of our economy is affected by this.
As a young professional who is very involved in her community, why do you think community involvement and participation is important? Specific to the environment, how can your peers help? Why do they need to be involved?
AS: The environment is something we all have in common. It should be something we are all invested in saving, as we all reap the benefits of it everyday. Community involvement is especially important because there is power in numbers. If we all made small changes, we would see the direct impact not only on our ecosystems, but in the overall health of our people. People need to get involved because it will take a collective effort to offset the negative effects of climate change – businesses and citizens working together. There are so many ways to help! Find an environmental cause you care about most and find the people in your community who are already leading the charge and listen to them. Whether it’s coastal clean ups, water conservation, reforestation – there is no wrong way to begin your advocacy journey.
Keep up with more from Aarti’s Miss Earth journey here!
This article was featured in our September 2021 E-Newsletter.