During conservation icon Dr Jane Goodall's Rewind the Future tour of New Zealand two very special awards were presented at Government House on Friday. One to Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and one to a very environmentally conscious college student...
Maha Fier may still be at school but her environmental CV is already bursting, with her latest achievement the most prestigious yet.
Internationally recognised conservationist Dr Jane Goodall has bestowed Maha, a Paraparaumu College student, as well as Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, with the inaugural Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand Trailblazer award.
The awards, launched to coincide with Dr Goodall's Rewind the Future tour of New Zealand, are created to recognise New Zealanders who share a trailblazing spirit, and are having a positive impact for animals, people and the environment.
With a love of animals from a young age, Maha's interest in environmentalism stemmed from a love of animals and animal rights activism.
At the age of 11 Maha discovered organisations Green Peace and the World Wildlife Fund and soon after started creating petitions with her friends against factory farming.
Attending a presentation by Dr Goodall with her father a year later, Maha never dreamed that four years after she would be speaking alongside her and being bestowed this award.
"I first saw Jane speak when my dad took me along to one of her talks at the Michael Fowler Centre when I was 12.
"I didn't even know who she was at the time and was actually really grumpy that morning when my dad woke me up to go into town for her talk."
But then she started talking about chimpanzees and living in Tanzania and Maha was hooked.
Now 16, Maha has started and been part of many school and community environmental projects.
Shoulder-tapped by a senior in her first year of college to join the school's environmental group after making a speech on recycling, Maha even joined the Robotics Club to take part in creating a beach-cleaning robot that picks up rubbish.
"I never thought about using artificial intelligence to help benefit the planet.
"But it's a growing thing that people are using so we might as well use it for good instead of using it for bad."
Last year Maha attended the Sir Peter Blake Trust Kermadec Islands trip after attending the Youth Enviroleaders' Forum run by the trust the year before and also went to Lesotho, South Africa with the Paraparaumu College World Challenge group.
Maha's environmental CV also includes many local projects including starting an environmental week at Paraparaumu College, organising student volunteers at Coastella to help with waste management, starting the Kāpiti Enviro Youth Summit and Kāpiti Schools Strike 4 Climate both with Sophie Handford, and more.
"The best part about being in the position I'm in is being able to inspire students and lead them to do some cool volunteering things too."
Of the award Maha said, "Knowing how much Jane has changed the way we view conservation and animals it's incredible that one of my biggest inspirations gave me an award.
"A lot of what I do comes down to firstly being inspired by conservationists like Jane and the work that is currently being done to help our planet, so it's an absolute honour to be awarded something under her name."
Receiving the award has further inspired Maha to continue fighting for the environment and talking with Dr Goodall has shown her how to communicate her message empathetically.
"Hearing Jane speak, she has a soft voice but is really empowering in a gentle way.
"It can be so easy to get angry at people who don't see why we should be making these big sustainable changes, and get fired up because this is my future too.
"What I've learnt from Jane is to just be calm and tell your own story."
Dr Goodall, who presented the awards at a ceremony at Government House on Friday, said, "I like to think of the challenges we face as a planet being like a jigsaw and currently the jigsaw is very black indeed.
"It was an honour to recognise two young New Zealander's who are making a difference to that puzzle and in doing so are inspiring change and action from others."