My Environmental Story: An End of a Chapter

Author: Khadija Shaikh

This summer, I got an internship with a newly grant-funded project, the Connecticut Trail Finder. It was the first environmental-related job I ever held and to say I am sad that it is ending today would be an understatement. You see, this summer was not only a positive experience but a healthy one. I was grateful enough to learn about resilience, perseverance, and assertiveness. The rapport that was established between me and my supervisors was one I had dreamed about when first entering the workforce. 


Being a Muslim Indian woman who chooses to wear Hijab, it can quite difficult for me to believe in myself and be proud of the career path I have chosen. It is not just due to the stereotypical Indian parental and societal pressures but also because of the lack of representation in the environmental field. Just recently did I declare myself an environmentalist because for so long I never really understood how a Muslim Indian woman who chooses to wear Hijab fit into this dominating white discipline. Instead, of positive experiences, I hear of marginalized members being mistreated and tokenized in the workplace due to their lack of matching the stereotypical white, male, “tree-hugger vegan” of an environmentalist. Due to these encounters and insecurities, I was fearful to apply for an internship, afraid that I would quickly join the group of discriminated marginalized environmentalists. However, this fear lessened as I began my summer internship. 


My supervisors have continuously and constantly supported and encouraged me to be a “go-getter”. From even before I started my internship, during my interview, I remember feeling at ease speaking with them about my passions, experiences, and career goals. They responded with such excitement and with such cheer that it felt like they wanted what was best for me. I really appreciated that. At the beginning of each week, my supervisors would check in with me to establish the goals and priorities for the week, but also see how I was doing mentally and emotionally. This summer was intense for personal reasons, however, the relationship I had with my supervisors allowed me to be honest during my weekly check-ins and know that my supervisors were my advocates


The summer internship was not all easy though, it challenged me. As I mentioned previously, I learned what it meant to be assertive and how important it is to be. Prior to this internship, I was passive when relaying my ideas and opinions, I would never come forth with my own until I felt comfortable enough to and even then, that was rare. I wasn’t brought up in a household where I could freely speak my mind, and with the lack of diverse representation in the environmental field, it felt even harder to be able to feel valued enough to voice my concerns. However, the team I worked with during my internship made it a point to ask me for my thoughts and for what my goals were for the internship. It was a relationship in where my team members wanted me to grow and thrive. I felt appreciated and as if I ever needed help, there would be plenty of people more than willing to offer. 


This summer I got an internship. One that provided me with an expectation of a healthy work environment, role models who exhibit perseverance, and values of assertiveness and honesty. I am thankful for this experience, however, I am a bit upset that it was such a great one because now it will be ending. I know it is for the best, I have opportunities lined up for the future, but now I have this expectation and knowledge of what it’s like to work in a place where you are encouraged constantly to speak your mind and push for the projects that you want to make happen. I just hope that I continue to have experiences such as this one. 


Thank you Kimberly Bradley and Laura Brown for your endless support and love, I appreciate both of you. Thank you to the rest of the CT Trails Team and partners, I have had such a wonderful time working with all of you, I hope our paths cross sometime soon. 


As we say farewell to Khadija Shaikh for all of her time and hard work, we also would like to say if you ever want to contact us, please feel free to at

My Environmental Story: It’s Quite Unconventional and Still Evolving.

Author: Khadija Shaikh

If you had told me two years ago that I was to be an environmentalist* and fight for the planet, I would have laughed. I would have said “There are much more important things to advocate for. People around the world are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, who they love, their gender, and much more. Sure it’s important to protect the Earth but why would I waste my time fighting for national parks, when I could advocate for marginalized communities?” I would have said this because before, I never thought of how the two topics intersected with one another: climate change and social justice. 


My environmental education before college consisted of the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), the water cycle in three steps (condensation, precipitation, and evaporation), and an AP Environmental Science which focused on pollution and food chains. I never once pondered how my science classes connected to my passion for social justice, and I simply put the two in separate boxes. Outside of class, I spent my time organizing food drives, protests, collaborations amongst different peoples, but not once did I think climate change could be connected to it all. My parents never spoke of the importance of conservation or the environment, except when it came to dinner time and I didn’t want to finish my food. The typical saying “don’t waste your food, people around the world are starving” would be the only time my parents subtly mentioned food injustice, but again there was no mention of how climate justice was related. 


My entire childhood I lived in a typical southern suburban neighborhood where the closest shopping complex was a five-minute drive away. I rarely spent time in a forest, on a trail, in the ocean, in places that would be defined as nature as those places were at least a two-hour drive away. I wasn’t exposed nor encouraged to enjoy the outdoors because my life revolved around the question “will this put me in harm’s way?” See, I am an Indian Muslim Woman who wears Hijab. Too many times I have been merely outside on a walk, or in a classroom, or scrolling through social media, and I have been threatened, shouted at, or grabbed at. No wonder, my parents did not want me to spend much time away from them and outside. 


I did not truly connect the two, social justice and climate change until I attended a Fridays for Future protest during my senior year in high school. It was there, I learned of the term “climate justice”* and how it was so very connected to social justice. It was there, I saw a BIPOC* woman talk about climate change and how it was her job to speak up and work towards systemic change. Previously, I had not once seen a BIPOC individual whose ideals aligned with those of an environmentalist. At this moment, I was interested in the idea of becoming an environmentalist. For me, the reason was due to the belief that environmentalism is intersectional*, all-encompassing of social justice movements. It was due to the belief that a radical* approach to environmentalism meant grasping the issues at their roots and finding solutions. It was due to the belief that to be an environmentalist you didn’t need the pre-requisites of being white, or a male, or a vegan, it meant that you could be an Indian Muslim Woman who wears Hijab. 


However, still now, two years later, if you were to tell me that I am an environmentalist, I would be proud but still conflicted. I still have doubts and questions because this climate movement still has much work to do to become inclusive of all stories, backgrounds, and experiences. This movement is not normalized as being intersectional or radical or one with a climate justice priority. To this day, I still question “who exactly is an environmentalist?” because to this day can I only think of one other Desi* Muslim Woman who wears Hijab and claims to be an environmentalist. My Environmental Story is still evolving as I continue to learn how I fit in the environmental movement, or more like how I can make it normal for Desi Muslim Women who wear Hijab to be apparent in the environmental movement. 



Environmentalist = is traditionally defined as an individual who advocates for the protection of the environment. How do you define this term? How can we make this definition more inclusive?

Climate Justice = a term used to approach climate change and environmentalism as an ethical and political issue instead of one that is only physical. This means the inclusion of human rights, equality, and historical injustice. 

BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples Of Color. This acronym is used to highlight the historic oppression of marginalized communities. 

Intersectional = a framework conceptualized and coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw that allows for the relationship between different aspects of a person’s different identities to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. 

Radical = is traditionally thought of as extreme, however, means originating from the root. 

Desi = a people and their culture originating from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh


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