Encouraging young people to find out about environmental issues isn’t always easy. Current solutions to eco-issues are often seen as negative. Don’t use plastic bags, don’t make unnecessary car journeys – these are just two examples on a long list of what not to do in order to save the planet. However, to successfully tackle ongoing ecological issues, all age groups and cultures will have to pull together, listen, and learn about what we can all do.
Enter, ‘YALLAH: Reef to Rainforest’, an innovative project from Qatar Foundation International (QFI), a United States-based member of Qatar Foundation (QF), which aims to energize teenagers in challenging global issues and take the messages learned back to their peers.
YALLAH – Youth Allied to Learn, Level and Help – is an online forum for QFI’s educational exchange program alumni. It’s a space for them to share and exchange ideas on topics from the community level up. ‘Reef to Rainforest’ brings together these teenagers, who are already committed to making a difference, in a once-in-a-lifetime trip through Costa Rica, from the country’s coast to its heart, finding out about ecological issues along the way.
Those applying had to be members of QFI’s online platform before submitting two essays and two teachers’ recommendations, which were then rated for quality and content.
Adnan Mackovic, ‘Reef to Rainforest’ supervisor and Qatar Leadership Academy Subject Co-ordinator, explained why the program is so impactful. “Students are often taught about the importance of our environment, sustainability, and community involvement simply by sitting behind their desks and looking at video clips or multimedia images – they don’t get to have a personal connection, personal experience. This project offered exactly that,” he said.
“Our students learned about the importance of our environment by doing, by experiencing, by participating, and directly being immersed in the nature, flora, and fauna of Costa Rica.” During the adventure, the participants from Qatar, Brazil, and America were challenged to work together in a series of physical activities, while finding out about some of the ecological issues facing Costa Rica and the world as a whole.
Livia Kobayashi, 18, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, a student of BibliASPA, was particularly impressed by a visit the group took to Casa Del Sol, where they learned about composting methods that reduce the need for artificial fertilizers, before cooking some of the resulting produce. “Even though I already knew about it, we learned about cooking with solar energy,” she explained. “It was interesting to see the different equipment used in the process. The people there were so passionate about what they do, it was really inspiring.”
Marwa Yehya, 17, a student from Al Ieman Independent Secondary School for Girls in Qatar emphasized how much she learned. “When I held a starfish, I actually learned that they don’t have a skeleton. Instead, they have spines and they feed on bivalves like clams and mussels,” she said.
“My experience helped me recognize how much humans are ruining God’s gifts in the earth. Instead, we need to benefit from them in a good way and help to take care of everything. It has changed my life for the better. It has taught me to be more optimistic and willing to try new stuff – even if it takes work and tires you, it’s worth it.”