Abu Dhabi's 'paper bag boy' represents UAE at global kids summit

Eleven-year-old Abdul Muqeet, a local environmental activist, will travel to the US next month as part of a children's summit to talk about his work with recycling and conservation in the UAE.

August 14, 2013 (Abu Dhabi) Abdul Muqeet, 11, has become the only child from the GCC region to be invited to an annual event in the United States in recognition of his recycling work. Now the family have been invited to Frederick, Maryland on September 14 by the Kids Are Heroes organization to share his experience with other children from around the world. August 14, 2013. (Sammy Dallal / The National) (anwar)
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ABU DHABI // While other 11-year-olds are playing games and having fun, Abdul Muqeet has far more serious business to attend to.

Abu Dhabi's "paper bag boy", known as Mukku to his friends, has become famous for being an environmental crusader with a mission to save waste by turning old newspapers into shopping bags.

The Indian schoolboy won an Abu Dhabi Award last year for his environmental work and now he has become the only child in the Middle East to be invited to an international children's event in the United States to tell his tale.

Kids Are Heroes, based in Frederick, Maryland, is a non-profit organisation that empowers children to become leaders through volunteering and community involvement.

Since the inception of Kids Are Heroes Day six years ago, a total of 392 "heroes" from 17 countries have showcased the cause they are championing at the event.

This year, Kids Are Heroes Day takes place on September 14 at a mall in Frederick and, so far, 37 heroes from four different countries have been invited. The children will demonstrate their social and environmental contributions in their respective communities.

"I am very excited about meeting new people there," Mukku said, "and when I come back, I aim to set up an environment club in Abu Dhabi. I plan to reach a larger number of children through holding events in malls and hosting beach clean-ups."

At the event, Mukku said he will talk about the contribution he has made to the environment through his recycled bag idea and also about the good work of Masdar and the Shams solar project.

"I will talk about Masdar and Shams and, with my campaign, I will talk about the harmful effects of plastic usage and my journey in making paper bags and how my small effort can help in saving the environment," he said.

"I will also demonstrate to them how they can turn a piece of discarded paper into an useful bag to carry different kinds of commodities from the market and avoid using plastic bags."

Mukku's family - his father, mother, brother and sister - are currently trying to obtain visas from the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi so they can travel to Maryland.

Abu Dhabi Awards and Etihad Airways have funded two of the five air tickets and, on arrival, they will be received by the UAE Embassy in Washington DC.

Mukku, who is in 7th grade at the Abu Dhabi Indian School, found out about Kids Are Heroes via the internet. He applied and the organisation took two months to assess his application before deciding he would be the first child from the Middle East to take part in the event.

In 2010, at the age of just 8, Mukku started making newspaper shopping bags, handing them out in his neighbourhood, Madinat Zayed in the capital. So far, the youngster has distributed about 5,000 bags.

He also works to encourage his classmates and others to join him in promoting eco-friendly alternatives to using plastic bags.

His bags have become so popular that he was nicknamed paper bag boy and the bags have recently been called Mukku bags by his friends, so he now puts a Mukku seal on each bag before handing them out.

Mukku intends to take UAE flags and souvenirs to hand out to people while in the US.

He said he was inspired in his environmental crusade after reading a quote on the internet. "It said we should strive to save the environment and animals, as we do humans," he said.

The quote was from the late Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE.

"After that, I started saving electricity and water at home, turning them off if not required and using less water, and I also began taking part in clean-up campaigns," Mukku said, adding that his family supports him a lot with his ideas.

"Whatever my son plans to do, we try to coordinate and supply the required assistance," said his mother Andaleeb Fatma Mannan.

"He suggested, on the eve of environment day, to go to a food court and ask them not to waste food, so we coordinated and arranged whatever was required for the purpose. I am thankful to almighty Allah that my son is doing such noble work for the environment."