• Jason Bohner

Activist Spotlight: Sanaalee T



My name is Farisa Rahman and I spoke to Sanaalee T.(pictured on the left) about her journey as an activist. She is the founder of Cleaner Oceans Institute based in Long Island, NY. If you want to know more about the organizations, check out their website. We also did a social media post on Cleaner Oceans Institute.


Sanaalee and I got to know each other from previous meetings, and we related a lot on the topic of exposure. Exposing real issues to every person, regardless of age and race. It all depends on what you have learned at school and at home.



“While I was on vacation, I was on a resort where they were doing acrobatic lessons.. My mom was asking if I want to go here. I said ‘ no, I need to work on my organizations’. I was sitting… and taking interviews”


“I was making sure that people actually wanted to do it”


“I feel like a lot of us are mentally driven to do things at an earlier age “a lot of kids don't understand at the age. Us educating yourself and giving us that fundamental background from 6th grade, 4th grade, 5th grade”


A fifth grader who is part of the organization is highly spoken about in this interview. Sanalee described her as driven, eloquently spoken and inspiring. The member also participated in all the Friday strikes with the other members of Cleaner Oceans Institute.


“I wish I was that driven when I was in 5th grade.” I added that “it is important that we are educated, at a young age, to be able to make these types of projects” or even participate in marches. I remember reading articles on endangered species and creating posters for ‘ save the earth’ in elementary school. However, this only happens when a teacher is so driven that they add this, current environmental issues, to the curriculum.


“Education is the most important to me. You cannot advocate for something that you are not educated about...you can participate but If you are not educated, is your participation going to make that much of an impact?”


I recalled Greta Thunberg arriving in New York City late last year. I mentioned how her arrival and speeches blew my mind. However, is it important to those who do not know what she is doing? “ All I see is that if you do not know what it is, you don’t know why people are [advocating]


“ We all want to help in some way, but all of us can’t because we do not have fundamental education [about the environment] That is really why I think schools need to embed more environmental science curriculums so that younger students have different concepts. When people are trying to have conversations on environmentalism, they are actually educated and can speak on their perspectives including the scientific parts”


I mentioned how wrong it was that depending on where you live, it depends on what education you get. Especially in elementary and middle schools that are zoned based on your residence. Sanalee pointed out that “students who live in marginalized communities usually don't even have environmental science courses. Even if they do, it doesn't speak about environmental issues that are really affecting their communities. Something we have to realize is that environmental issues disproportionately affect marginalized communities. So they don't even know that the reason that their family members have cancer, asthma, or all these conditions is due to the environment.


“We need to start embedding better curriculums.. Not just the geological parts of it.”



What were some challenges that you faced?


“Being a youth activist and not being heard by adult organizers. I was working orgs that were adult led. I felt that I was just a helper. I felt like I wasn't making fundamental change. Or They were not giving me an opportunity to flourish within this field. It was really hard for me because I felt that I didn't deserve a spot at the table. I felt that joining student-led organizations allowed me to flourish in activism. Once going back to those adult-led organizations.. I was finally able to talk during the meetings and say ‘hey! I deserve to have an op. I deserve to speak from my perspective. I deserve to be doing the same work you guys are doing because I am educated about it. It is also affecting me because I am the future generation. I need to do this work.’ That was really the challenging part. Finding my footing with regard to working with adults.” This was before Sanaalee created the Cleaner Oceans Institute.


“I think it was me and two other youths, and we had to have a meeting where we had to prove ourselves. We had to have a meeting and say‘ Hey this is why we should be a part of this. And even if we are just young , you should hear us out and accept us” Sanaalee recalled.


“It was outrageous. Everyone else was much older. They were probably reluctant due to the fact that we might not be highly educated. But then I found out that none of the adults were interviewed and you don’t know their backgrounds”


Future events and plans


“I just really wanted to have a rally for those who are in environmentally disadvantaged communities. Invite environmentalists...educate...give them a platform to speak on their experiences. Our organization was planning to do this before COVID.”


“Having these conversations are so important”- Sanalee


As much as you try to do Instagram pages, are people going to actually go to those Instagram accounts? The only people looking at it are the 200 followers and there must be another way to spread awareness. It is really important to have conversations. This plays into the education part. I wouldn't think that what I am thinking is also taught by someone else.


“We always talk about this in our org. When we learn things we still doubt ourselves. We doubt that it is important, or we are making a bigger deal because we just learned about it. I tell my org that ‘No. Everyone else in the environmental field thinks the same way as you. We are just trying to make sure that everyone in the whole entire WORLD thinks the same way as you and feels this. “


We had a wonderful conversation about so many more topics including racism and the fashion industry. Thanks Sanaalee!


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