For my K2A, I decided to work with the youth of Minnesota at Nova Classical Academy and educate them on the importance of bringing awareness towards the issue of environmental refugees and how contributing to climate change is affects the lives of others.
During my stay at JAAGO (a school in the slums of Rayer Bazaar) I had the to interview residents of different slums who told me plenty of stories of how they were displaced due to natural disasters. They spoke of how they lost everything: their land, their animals, and even their family members. Environmental refugees are not recognized or supported by the United Nations since the purpose of them leaving their homes was not a cause of war or dangerous conflicts. After learning this fact and conducting research on the issue, I felt I had the responsibility to share the stories of my interviewees and let their voices reach others.
I was inspired to promote awareness on the issue, and teach others about the small things they could do to support my Knowledge to Action workshops, the environmental refugees, and other people that are being affected by climate change around the world.
Some problems I faced while conducting my Knowledge to Action workshops were:
o Arranging dates and times for my Knowledge to Action plan and staying on schedule with teachers that were constantly busy.
o Creating fun, engaging, and informative criteria/activities for my workshops for middle school students ages 11 to 14.
o Getting money to buy supplies that students would use for the arts and crafts portion of my workshops.
o Maintaining the number of students attend my workshops since I separated three workshops over two weeks.
I got through these problems by not being afraid to ask for help from the people in my support network. I made checklists and kept a calendar with important dates that would remind me of anything that I had to do in order to prepare for my workshops. I had help from my younger sister who is a middle school student herself. Her input was important because she knew what her peers would and would not be interested in. I also got help from my sister who went through the whole K2A process last year and got good suggestions from my mentor on activities to do for one of my workshops. To encourage the students to attend all three workshops, I had to offer them things the students would come back for including: food, fun activities, and arts and crafts. I was able to maintain a minimum of 15 students at each of my workshops.
I will continue to do this kind of work because there is a lot I learned in Bangladesh that I could continue to inform people of everywhere I go. What I saw and experienced still impact my everyday life. I am always promoting awareness on various issues such as climate change and environmental refugees. For example, in my biology class, I got to speak about climate change, its effects on Bangladeshi citizens over the years, and how it has affected areas such as the Sundurban forest. In philosophy class, I lead a class discussion/debate on environmental refugees for extra credit. We discussed whether or not it was the responsibility of the United Nations to provide affected citizens with aid. at a Human Trafficking event at my high school I performed a spoken word piece about the injustice that exists in some factories in Bangladesh. Even though human trafficking isn’t directly related to climate change, the Bangladesh climate change trip gave me experiences that have helped me become more involved in promoting awareness about human trafficking. I have had the honor to embark on this amazing trip and I feel a sense of responsibility to continue educating others on everything I have learned. I have learned that I cannot change the world or combat climate change alone. Taking my knowledge and turning it into action will create a domino effect. The amount of people this knowledge can reach is limitless.
Image courtesy of phlanlopp88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Our k2A’s goal was to teach future generations how to reuse things they already own by making them into art pieces and accessories. Materials for the art and the Woodside Queens library made it possible for us to have our workshop. If it wasn’t for Woodside Queens library we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do the workshop. We would specially like to thank the librarian Mrs.Hallen for making it possible for us to borrow the library’s room, for promoting our flyer for the workshop, and getting more kids to come. We would also like to thank the donors of Materials for the Arts, and Materials for the Arts for letting us get the materials. If it wasn’t for them, we would have been short on the materials and we wouldn’t have been able to make many types of arts and crafts. Finally we would like to thank world savvy leader Daniel Carlton for taking time out of his busy day to take us shopping to Materials for the Art. We would also like to thank our friend, Sharif Arshad, for helping us carry our heavy bags, recording us, and helping us out on the day of our hectic workshop. Without Sharif, Maria and I would have been stressed out. In conclusion if it wasn’t for these people and places our K2A workshop wouldn’t have been this amazing. Our workshop went beyond well. Our audience enjoyed it and learned to reuse things.
The kids that attended the workshop were ages 8-12. They made many things out of all the materials we took to the library. Some of these included journals, bags, jewelry, and instruments. We were glad that the kids enjoyed making things. In the beginning we were scared people wouldn’t show up because the workshop was right after school and it was on a weekday, but more people than expected showed up. We now plan on doing a workshop at the library every year. The library staff in the library enjoyed it so much that they would love us to do many more workshops related to other things!
Image courtesy of scottchan /FreeDigitalPhotos.net
For my knowledge to action project, I introduced my local community Stillwater to a global movement called Transition. Transition is a global movement where communities from all over the world take action to become more environmentally sustainable and resilient. An initial challenge I faced was getting the word out to students and community members who would be interested in the movement. This problem became less of an issue after I started making connections by giving presentations to high school classrooms and contacting community members of all ages that could be interested in taking part in the movement.
There were around 40 community members from a diverse age range at the first Transition Stillwater meeting. The meeting proved to be very beneficial, because it included participants with a wide variety of experience with environmental issues and perspectives in discussions. Another challenge I dealt with was to keeping the momentum of the movement going. After the first community meeting, everyone was excited to see what our first project or environmental initiative would be. It is difficult to keep on working behind the scenes to make the necessary connections. I have learned that distributing jobs is a very important part of the process. Community members have had a wonderful response to the movement so far. They offer ideas of ways to better Stillwater. At the first Transition Stillwater meeting, I noticed that when people broke off into groups for discussions, many of the community members were very eager to connect and find ways to help each other. They were also eager to share ideas and/or to find ways for local environmental projects and organizations to benefit each other.
Working on this movement has made me realize that young people really do have a voice. Taking initiative on environmental actions in Stillwater will impact other towns by setting a positive example, and inspiring community members, adults, and students to be a part of a global movement. After returning from Bangladesh, I knew that I needed to take action to make a visible change in my community. I will continue to work on Transition Stillwater until I graduate from high school. My experience with this K2A has taught me that making change at a local scale is the first step in addressing a global issue like climate change.
My Knowledge to Action plan was focused on creating a workshop for students at Brooklyn Technical High School. My school does not have many workshops about climate change, and not all students are offered environmental science or climate change studies classes. I decided to work with a classmate of mine who was a student participant for the American Youth Leadership in Cambodia and an educator of mine who also participated in the AYLP Cambodia program. We planned a workshop that would be for student participants, and was led by other students. Our main goal was to make sure that students understood how small changes in our lives could benefit the environment in many ways. We all made a poster detailing one small change we would each make in our lives that would help the climate. Some of these changes included: buying reusable water bottles, cutting down on buying water bottles, and conserving electricity in one’s home.
I recently sent out surveys for students to complete where I asked about the progress of their changes (whether or not they implemented them, how likely they are to pursue these changes, and how long-term they will be). I will definitely continue my work with the promotion of climate change and environmental studies. In college, I will make sure to investigate how green my school is, and I will definitely promote knowledge of the environment. I will hopefully have more climate change workshops to educate more students. I learned that when students are led the workshop, more students were engaged. I feel that student leadership in workshops creates a calm environment, where students are very willing to participate. I feel that this workshop was very successful, and I was very happy to show and tell people about my experiences in Bangladesh.
FINAL REFLECTIVE BLOG
Cole N., Blake School
Thanks to World Savvy and the State Department, I had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh and learn about the culture and climate challenges that characterize that region of Asia.
On the surface, that sentence may sum up the basics of my interaction with the AYLP program. But in reality, the experience I have had is so much more multi-dimensional and far-reaching than those thirty words would ever make it seem. It began far before I got on any plane, even prior to the moment I decided to apply for this exchange at all. The first thing that AYLP gave me was a friend in Leah Norman, a participant whose Knowledge to Action project involved a presentation to my youth environmental group. Without this program, specifically the K2A aspect, we would have never met—and I would have never tasted buttery parata, scaled holy Hindu mountains, looked into the eyes of a wild boar, learned to dance the Wobble, spent hours comparing American and Bangladeshi politics, or listened to the sound of the azan echo through early morning darkness on the banks of the Rupsha River. Not only these things, but I would have never explored a new part of my own city, discovered my favorite book, or found many of the musical artists that now populate my iPod; I would have never boarded a bus headed for an unprecedented protest in Washington DC, I would have never dared to make an attempt at documentary filmmaking, and most importantly, I would have never met the people I now consider to be my best friends, both across town and across the Pacific. The people who inspire me, motivate me, make me come alive. I honestly could not imagine my life without AYLP, and for that I am boundlessly grateful.
The fact that Leah’s K2A was the thing that opened up this entire world to me speaks to its import as a vital part of the AYLP experience. With this in mind, I’ve grown to look at this third and final step in the process as a major opportunity to educate, connect, and put into motion all that I’ve learned in the past 9 months with the goal of doing some small amount of good for the world. At first, I was thinking small—I would help people in my community find greener cleaning alternatives for their homes. This was something that had been done before and did not capture my imagination in the least. I thought only of practicality and ease of implementation when brainstorming on my way back from Bangladesh. But something changed when Sofia Logan, Sam Schirvar and I joined the 50,000 other citizens who congregated around the White House to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline on President’s Day last February. If there were this many people out there who cared enough about the climate to put their lives on hold and take to the streets, then there was really no limit to what I could try and accomplish with my K2A. I shifted gears and consolidated my plans with the open-ended Senior Program project my school assigns to its seniors for the three weeks leading up to graduation. And suddenly, I found myself making a documentary.
I am definitely not a professional filmmaker. But looking back on my experiences with film, documentaries have always managed to have a significant impact on me. So what better way to maximize the impact of my K2A than make a documentary of my own, focusing on a rapidly emerging environmental issue that faces my community? I wanted to make sure whatever I made was easily accessible and relatable to multiple audiences, so I chose to focus on sand mining—which, despite your political persuasion, is a contentious subject in Minnesota and our neighbors to the south and west. Sand mining is only our piece of the puzzle that is American domestic energy policy, a landscape that is quite literally being changed by the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing operations drilling for oil and natural gas. As of right now, I’m in the thick of this project, having just completed the bulk of my filming and now beginning to engage in the video editing and publicity process that will lead up to the screening event I am hosting on Thursday May 30th. I’ve travelled through western Wisconsin interviewing families about their views on the sand mining happening in their backyards; learned about the geological background of this issue from a representative of the Minnesota DNR who specializes in sand and aggregate mine management; attended a tense press conference summing up the economic impact of sand mining on rural communities in Auburn, Wisconsin; and have conducted two out of five student interviews that will add a distinctly youth-oriented perspective to the whole project. The interest and enthusiasm I have received in response has been greatly encouraging, making me confident that this will be worth it if I work hard over the next two weeks.
Many people have asked what this has to do with Bangladesh. I agree that the connection may not be obvious, but it is definitely substantial. Sand mining, besides its initial environmental impact, enables the domestic oil and natural gas industry to continue growing, which in turn supplies us with more and more readily available fossil fuels to burn at our convenience. As long as this supply avoids disruption, a swelling global population will find new ways to use it, and the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will only accumulate further. This of course is the primary driving force behind violent climate change that disproportionately affects geographically vulnerable nations like Bangladesh, which often lack the resources needed for protection. By finding my own frontline, I am standing in solidarity with Bangladesh, and everyone else around the world who is working tirelessly to bring about the change we need. We all have a frontline, and while some may not be as sexy as others, we must commit ourselves to them in order to be as effective as an individual can be. I might not be able to do much in terms of alleviating poverty in Rayer Bazar, but I can do lot when it comes to educating fellow students about sand mining. There’s actually a chance that this documentary could play a role in shaping the conversation happening around sand mining in Minnesota.
AYLP gave me the courage to do this. AYLP gave me the relationships necessary to make it happen. And AYLP will continue to inform and motivate my action as I go forward. THANK YOU AYLP
There was a point after I got back from Bangladesh when I got tired of responding to, “so how was your trip?” No one really cared, they were just being polite. At first this didn’t faze me – I flooded everyone who asked with my thirty seconds on everything I did and why it was important. Eventually it dimmed down to, “oh, it was really eye opening.” The thrill of being gone had passed, and no one seemed interested. In a way, I felt like I had no power to do anything with what I learned, and I began slipping into old habits because everything seemed unchanged. It wasn’t until I was looking back at photographs that I remembered everything I had felt.
For my photography class I had to submit photos I had taken in Bangladesh as part of an assignment, and combing through the 5,000 pictures I took while in Bangladesh was emotionally exhausting. Seeing them again made me remember why I was excited to come back home, why the experience I had was valuable; the people and things I saw were real, not just a recount of events I had rehearsed or vague memories of something passed. Unfortunately, just like the way people can distance themselves from stories, it’s easy to become detached from images. The people and places in my pictures are real though, and it’s my responsibility to share the things I’ve experienced as both an artist and a contributing human being.
We are taught our actions impact others, but we hardly ever think about people we cannot immediately relate to, and we tend to make a “special” category in the back of our minds for people we just pity. During my experience in Bangladesh, I learned that our actions impact more people than we can imagine, and that pity is not an effective way of helping people. It’s not enough to just “feel bad.” Meeting people affected by climate change and participating in the workshops provided made me realize I have the ability to change things around me, and I have the responsibility to speak out on things that affect me. ABYLP taught me no one is powerless, but we all need support. Throwing money at a problem, or ignoring it, are not options that “solve” a problem, but working with disadvantaged people to create a sustainable plan is a solution.
This is a global world; we impact people we’ll never know, and vise versa. The issues that affect us may be the same issues other people are fighting against, and as technology continues to improve our role as a global citizen becomes more important. We can no longer turn a blind eye to other people’s struggles because the information is posted everywhere around us. This also makes it possible to reach outside of our comfort zone to make connections and find inspiration. Before traveling to Bangladesh with AYLP I was positive I wanted to go to college for just pre-med, but now I’m more interested being an econ major with a global health focus. I’m still interested in some sort of a career in health, but I’m more passionate about how the world connects and what I can do to be a part of that. The images I took in Bangladesh and the experiences I connect with them are eye opening. They are proof that the experiences I had and the people I met were real, and that what I experienced is not lost or insignificant. I have the tools and the ability to impact people, and I want to make a difference for the better.
Six million people live in the slums of Rayer Bazar, of which hundreds or thousands share two squat toilets. Their dwellings stand 15 by 15 feet with corrugated tin sheets for walls and roof, and beds are raised due to yearly knee-high flooding. Many of them are forced to the slums as climate refugees, as floods ravaged their homes in their coastal villages. After sleeping on the floor of the Jaago school for 4 nights, I come back to my lower middle class home in Santa Clara, California and lay down on my soft, warm bed and wonder why I can live in this luxury, while the world struggles to live on a few dollars a day. I somehow thought that I appreciated my life before Bangladesh, but my appreciation has become all the more sincere. I find that, where I live, poverty is so shrouded and veiled from our daily lives that we don’t fully understand the human experience. Looking out from the rooftop of my home in Bangladesh, poverty is so open and visible, with the same tin houses I found in Rayer Bazar occupying a plot of land across the dirt road. Going forward, this experience of poverty first hand has really inspired me to apply myself in areas of human struggle and poverty in the United States, which exists behind dark curtains.
However, we also need to delve into the root causes of poverty among the people of Rayer Bazar. Although flooding is a common event in the coast, the floods have intensified with sea level rise while other climate factors leave the people more vulnerable. I ask myself constantly, why are the people of third world countries suffering from our own decisions? I drive my car to school every day, there are lights turned on in rooms in my house that no one occupies, we crank up our heater in weather we could very well bear. If I epitomize a regular student at my school, multiply my carbon footprint by 2,000 then realize how one person as a collective body contribute to disasters on a worldly scale. I don’t want to sit around anymore, I’m committed to take action so that not another person is forced to live in Rayer Bazar.
Bangladesh was the most unique and special experience I could have ever asked for. Not only did I explore an amazing culture but I also came back to America as a whole different person. This trip has changed my point of view and I am now ready to make some changes based on what I learned in Bangladesh. I became familiar with the word solidarity, which I learned about on my service project (the chars).
This trip has also changed the way I think. For example, while developing relationships and asking questions to the people who suffer from floods (which cause difficulties when planting crops) made me think of how difficult it must be to live there. These people are suffering because of climate change. I witnessed it in the chars and saw that these people are really affected. As I traveled there and experienced a little bit of their lives I realized that it is time for me to take action here in America.
While I was in the chars I also learned that these people appreciate what they have and are happy with their lives. I realized that food and shelter were very important for them, which made me realize that I have to appreciate some things that I didn’t appreciate before. But this experience of actually seeing it with my own eyes made me become a better person. I believe that as a part of this program I learned to face the reality. People on this earth are suffering from climate change and I feel now after this trip that it is apart of my responsibility to take some action and try to change the way people think here in America.
This exchange changed my world. It was an experience I will always remember, and one that I will be able to draw from and connect to my life back home. It has been an amazing opportunity to explore another culture I may never have explored otherwise, and it has allowed me to meet new people from different cities, backgrounds and cultures I would have never met otherwise. And best of all, it has officially given me the travel bug. I had an amazing time in Bangladesh, and I expanded my horizons so much. Being in a foreign country is sometimes hard, because you are displaced from everything you know and are familiar with. But it was great to be able to get away from my culture and learn about another one. I was able to experience and enjoy the differences, such as traffic and food, while finding a new appreciation for things I missed from home. I have learned a lot about climate change, how our cultures shape us, and even a little bit of Bengali. I have also learned what it means to help people, and how much of an impact a small group of people can make. Being able to learn about and meet people such as Korvi Rakshand of Jaago, and Mohammed Yunus of Grameen was so inspiring, because they believed in the young people: our future generation. They believed that we could change the world, and after this trip, I am going to have to agree with them. I have learned to look at problems from many different points of view, and I will continue to keep these lessons in mind moving forward. I will continue to travel and learn, and I will continue to bring all that I learned back home.