When Anjali was 9 years old, her classmate and friend, Ella Kissi-Debrah, died of an asthma attack, which is thought to have been caused by London’s air pollution. Since then, Anjali has had a ‘fire in her belly’ to raise awareness about air pollution and encourage change. Anjali worried that children in most towns and cities across the UK were exposed to unhealthy levels of pollution each day. Specifically, Anjali recognised that people of colour were more likely to live in polluted areas and suffer from health problems due to air pollution. In fact, in London, pollution is on average 24-31% higher in areas where people from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds are most likely to live.
When Anjali was 15 years old, she attended a training course with Advocacy Academy, a charity that teaches about campaigning. There, she met two like-minded teenagers – Destiny Boka Batesa and Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia. The girls became great friends and started sharing their thoughts and ideas about air pollution. Inspired by their training course, they had the idea to start a campaign called ‘Choked Up.’ Their campaign involved putting up fake road signs saying ‘Pollution Zone’ and ‘Breathing Kills’ in some of the most polluted parts of London. Not only did they grab the attention of passers-by, but it was on the news too. The campaign opened the eyes of people all across the UK and got them thinking about and acting on air pollution.
The girls also wrote letters to their MPs asking them to commit to transform London’s roads. The letters called for a reduction in goods vehicles and private car use. They also asked for the introduction of better walking and cycling networks, as well as affordable and zero-emission public transport. They sent letters to doctors all over the country to ask them to sign and show their support. In the end, more than 100 NHS Doctors signed the letters, urging governments to tackle air pollution.
Anjali identified a problem that was affecting her personally and decided to use her experiences and passion to make a change. She says, ‘An issue that we know isn’t being talked about enough is air pollution, more specifically how black and brown communities are affected by it…so we wanted to make a stand.’
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