KANNUR: When her friends and other students of her age struggled to learn the lessons in their textbooks, Swaliha Rafeeq had become a lesson herself. That was in 2019 when her feat of kayaking 10km through the rough sea and a river from Choottad beach, 30km from Kannur town, to Vadikkalkadavu in Sultan canal on June 5, 2017, when she was just 10, earned her a place in the CBSE Environmental Studies textbook for Class 5 students.
Swaliha from Puthiyangadi near Madayi, now 14, continued her environment awareness-related activities with commitment and courage rarely seen in girls of her age. All through these, she has been inspired and supported by her father Rafeeq, a differently-abled man who had returned from the Gulf in 2013 to be with his family. Now, she has added yet another feather in her cap by sailing 35km in a kayak through a canal, a river and the sea to spread the message of environment protection. The event took place on January 8.
Swaliha, Class 9 student of Wadi Huda HSS, Pazhayangadi, sailed through Sultan canal and entered the Pazhayangadi river after negotiating the high waves of the sea at Azheekkal estuary alone. She was followed by Rafeeq in another kayak, and her swimming instructor Anil Francis, two lifeguards from Kannur and a few fishermen in a speed boat.
“It was tough to get approval for the adventure from the officials as they were afraid that it would be unwise to put a 14-year-old into the sea alone. But it turned out well,” said Rafeeq. “I went on this trip to send out an awareness message to the public to protect whatever little is left in our environment. The waterbodies around us are littered with waste thrown indiscriminately by people. This should be stopped as we have to protect our waterbodies,” said Swaliha.
Rafeeq recalled an incident when he was working in Sharjah. When he communicated his decision to return home for good, his daughter asked him why he was doing so. “I said it is too hot there without any trees and rivers,” he said. A few days later when he called his wife Jasmine, she said their daughter had started planting tree saplings around the house. “That was the beginning. And when I returned home in 2013, I joined her and encouraged her in her environment-related activities,” said Rafeeq.
Sahila was honoured with Ujwala Balyam award of the state government in 2020 for her environment-related activities and she donated the cash prize of Rs 25,000 to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund so that people in need would be benefited from it. She was awarded for her adventurous 10km kayaking through the river and sea in 2017. She started learning kayaking at the age of five.
Swaliha now looks forward to scale new heights in swimming and kayaking, said Anil Francis, her swimming coach, who trains her at Kannur University Swimming Institute. Has she heard about the campaigns of Greta Thunberg, the voice of the new generation’s environment activities? “Yes, I have heard about Greta as one of my teachers had mentioned about her in our class,” said Swaliha. Quite unexpected from an unassuming girl from a remote village. Now, Rafeeq is working as a part-time employee in an institute at Taliparamba and Saliha has two siblings — Shameeha and Muhammad Swabah.