From a young age, Mt. Laurel resident Tanya Das aspired to empower women, and she knew becoming a Girl Scout was the best place to begin her youth as a young leader.
At the age of 17, Das continues to make her dream a reality after earning her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts, for her innovation on the natural scientific pursuit of environmentalism and underwater body risk in rural areas.
“I was really into underwater aquatics and to do that, I started looking at some of the environmental issues which impacted oceans,” Das explained. “That stood out to me as an area I wanted to pursue.”
It doesn’t stop there: As a junior at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Das is taking her initiatives a step further by expanding the program not only throughout New Jersey but in other countries.
In her project initiative, Das incorporated the nonprofit she created, Motion for the Ocean, a Silver Award winner in 2018, into her gold project, helping her to make connections with environmentalists.
“A big part of environmental problems is raising awareness, so in 2019, I became a trained Climate Reality Leader,” Das noted.
After going through that training, she had the opportunity to meet one of her influencers, former Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, who created the program.
Das decided to expand her nonprofit by combining her areas of interest of environmental issues and educational inequity, into one. At first, she started workshops in New Jersey to educate young leaders, and after months of preparation, she was ready to spread awareness to other countries.
“I had my workshop in a rural village in India,” Das recalled. “That was really an intersection of all my passions, and now the Motion for the Ocean is slowly transitioned more to youth civic empowerment.”
Starting an international workshop had its challenges, such as language barriers, but Das had two school teachers who were able to translate for her.
Motion For the Ocean has an official 501(c) designation as a nonprofit by the federal law of the U.S., which helped the program when applying for grants.
“We were able to get a grant from Robo Nation (an environmental nonprofit) for the actual robotics kits because that would have been a big cost that I could not afford myself,” Das explained. “We had a lot of donations, like nine sea perch, and from a lot of local business owners in India.”
Das was able to travel to India in December 2019 to help run the international pilot underwater robotics workshops offered there. Once she returned to the U.S. in January 2020, Das’ perspective on the educational system completely changed and her trip to India is one she’ll never forget, she said.
“I thought I was the one who had something to offer; when I was actually there, I realized that these kids were the sweetest kids I’ve ever met,” Das noted. “They would show up every day with a bright smile on their faces, and even though they were very underserved, they lived in a village, but they still came.”
Awareness of the international nonprofit continues to grow, and Das has so far trained 6,000 youth leaders in more than 12 countries. Advocacy, lobbying, and public speaking are her areas of passion.
As a high-school student who is dealing with remote learning during her spring term, Das finds working on her nonprofit and other organizations she’s involved in a stress reliever.
“I’m the head of the environmental clubs at school and the robotics club,” Das observed. “That’s really what I love to do; that’s my break. When I’m like, ‘Oh, I have free time,’ then my go-to is to work on Motion for the Ocean initiatives or one of those clubs.”
Das is working on her nonprofit through Zoom, research programs, and the continued expansion of her initiative to other countries. She hopes to someday become a policymaker and continue the advocacy of environmental issues.
“When I met (Massachusetts Senator) Elizabeth Warren, I remember she asked me to make a pinky promise,” Das said. “She made me promise that one day, I would be the one standing up giving speeches to hundreds of people. And I fully intend to keep that promise.”