The story of today brings us to Washington D.C. in the U.S. Rohan, the founder and executive director of The Community Check-up, shares with us the personal life experience that ignited his passion for the environment and the journey he took to start creating the change he wanted to see. An inspiring example on how to turn a drawback into an advantage.
My name is Rohan Arora, and I am 19 years old. I was born in Fairfax, Virginia, and I currently live in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area. I am a climate activist and social entrepreneur focused on alleviating environmental health disparities and igniting climate literacy. I am the founder and executive director of The Community Check-Up, a national youth-led organization focused on restructuring environmental issues with the public health lens. I am also a teen patent holder and passionate writer and speaker. I have been invited to speak by several organizations and have written for The Hill several times.
What were you looking for in life?
My story is a bit unique and narrative-driven. I was never someone who was a climate advocate before I personally saw the reality of what climate issues do to loved ones. In fact, my father has bad asthma, and over the years, I saw how the smog of his work life in the city caused his asthma to get significantly worse.
What was stopping you from achieving it?
Honestly, I thought no one would take my passion seriously. Youth are often times sidelined in the mainstream narrative, so I was really concerned that no one would take my efforts seriously. I also was fearful that no one would resonate with the mission of the organization, but I'm so fortunate that we had so much support from people across the country.
Which was the trigger for the change?
Growing up, I saw how my father often coughed himself to sleep due to his lungs trying to recuperate from the day exposure to pollution. Air pollution was causing the quality of his life to go down dramatically. I realized the climate discussion was missing one major piece: discussion about how climate issues often manifest into health issues. Americans are suffering around us, yet many of them still don't know about how climate issues are impacting their everyday health. After watching my dad for years, I realized I had to be the changemaker.
How was your journey? What did you put in action?
I started by educating my loved ones about environmental health and the connection between climate issues and health disparities. Then, my sister, a few of my friends, and I began to educate our community members, and we eventually began to have events across the entire Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area. I was shocked at how many people attended our events; our mission was truly resonating with so many individuals. This really showcased how environmental health is something rarely discussed in the climate narrative; yet, if we emphasize discussion on environmental and planetary health, we'll have a winning argument to convince people about the connection between environmentalism and health equity. We recently went national over the pandemic because so many people were emailing me from across the nation asking about how they can get involved. Over the past several months, we've been able to host virtual educational sessions, outreach events, and engage over 10,000 youth in the US. We've been so fortunate to collaborate with major organizations such as the American Lung Association and Earth Day Network! The reality is most of the climate discussion surrounding the mainstream narrative treats climate issues as abstract when in reality they impact the health of Americans on a day-to-day basis. We've received so much support, and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped us!
How do you think your life would be now if you had continued in the same direction?
I can't even imagine what my life would look like right now if I didn't act. The reality is Americans are hurting because of environmental instability and injustice. Many people just don't know about the real life connection between environmentalism and health justice. If I didn't act, I think more people wouldn't be aware of how important environmental action is to the preservation of our health as Americans.
How is your life today?
I'm so grateful for the support I have received in continuing the work of my organization; honestly, my life has taken a positive but busy turn. I have calls almost every day for potential collaborations and partnerships, which is really exciting! I also have been invited to speak to many students across the world about my work and to give advice; sometimes, it doesn't even feel real that I'm the one whose giving them pointers, considering that I still consider myself a budding activist. I also am balancing being a full-time student, which is difficult at times, but I make it work.
What would you say to someone reading your story?
Find and act on your passion. I can't emphasize that enough. You have a unique story, and it's so important that you act on it. I know that it is scary, but a mantra I follow is that you miss all the shots you don't take. You have the power to really make change, so the first step is to just start. Everything will line itself up when the passion is there. I also encourage people to start local. It's my firm belief that most change actually occurs first on the local level, and that's how I got my start. Start my being a social activist in your own community and then find ways to amplify your message.
Which are your top 3 inspiring books?
I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. I was inspired by this book because it highlights someone from a similar cultural background as myself overcoming adversity and turning her life experiences into something impactful for girls around the world. Get it in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain.
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. This books inspires me because Dr. Gawande tells his personal narrative about how well-being must be emphasized in medicine rather than just survival. I really enjoyed the narrative structure of the book, and as someone who has seen a loved one in end-of-life care, I was able to better understand the book.
Get it in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain.
Which are your top 3 inspiring movies, series or documentaries?
I am Greta. Because of my interest in the climate space, I was so inspired to hear about Greta Thunberg's story of activism and climate action.
New Amsterdam. I also am really inspired by this TV show. It's about one doctor's journey to tear down the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care. By disrupting the status quo, he's able to serve his community.
The Good Doctor. I really like The Good Doctor because it challenges our ableist society's perceptions of what people with autism can accomplish.
Which are your top 3 favourite songs?
We Shall Overcome, by Pete Seeger. This was something that my mom used to sing to me, and it inspired me to step up in the face of adversity.
Bad Day, by Daniel Powter. This is a classic that helps uplift my mood.
Chasing Cars, by Snow Patrol. This is something that I just enjoy listening to because I like the song and the lyrics are really moving!
Which is your most inspiring quote?
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others, by Mahatma Gandhi. I think this quote is so accurate because in my service, I've been able to find my passions and learn more about myself.
Tell us about your own favourite picture!
This is one of my favorite pictures. I took it when visiting Los Angeles, and I chose this picture because I think it really shows how peaceful our world can really be. I remember when I was taking this picture, it was really breezy and it just felt so serene. I also enjoyed how the dome contrasts with the very blue sky, showcasing our human interactions with our natural world.