Three teams have made it to the final of this year’s Young Aurora. UWC Dilijan, UWC South East Asia, and UWC East Africa all impressed the pre-selection panel with their choice of projects and their dedication to solving a pressing humanitarian issue within the vicinity of their school. The finalist teams will have the chance to finesse their project presentations over the coming weeks before they present them to the final panel of judges on March 23, 2023.
Ten UWC schools and the African Leadership Academy submitted proposals this year, and the students’ creativity and dedication really shone through, as panellist Isaac Vun (UWC Atlantic, 1994–1996) explains: “Young Aurora is significant in reminding our next generation of leaders of the importance of sustainability and humanitarian issues as we pursue economic development… I have been most impressed by the selfless initiative and collaborative spirit demonstrated by these young participants and their project ideas. They shine like beacons of hope restoring our faith in the human spirit.”
This year’s project entries covered a broad scope, with some focused on addressing health concerns, like an enterprise raising awareness of the dangers of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in beauty products, and another intent on tackling domestic violence through the provision of an app offering educational resources and community support. Other projects addressed specific local sustainability concerns.
“The focus on the environment seems to be on the minds and hearts of many UWCers,” commented panelist Ivana Situm (UWC SEA, 1996–2002). “Climate change is a reality and students today want to look for local sustainable solutions. The Aurora groups have the skills and ability to connect with the resources and knowledge to start to see the fruits of their labour – taking what they learn in the classrooms and applying it in the real world around them.”
One of the entries included a community-inspired project to install crop tunnels at a children’s center to increase food security, while another promoted the reforestation of an urban area facing adverse climatic conditions because of poor tree cover. Interestingly, all three of the finalist teams’ proposals have a sustainability theme, with two of the projects addressing waste management, and the third looking at coral-reef regeneration.
As Ivana asserts, the Young Aurora teams embody the UWC spirit in their desire to develop more sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems: “‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ I love this Margaret Mead quote – it guides me in my international relations career, which is very much connected to the UWC movement, and I think it is exactly what Young Aurora is all about!”
The Three Finalist Teams
UWC Dilijan – Combili
This project addresses the issues caused by mounting levels of air pollution by finding effective ways to manage biowaste. Recognising that local communities in Yerevan (and cities worldwide) lack effective and sustainable systems for bio waste disposal, the Combili project creates small ‘urban garden’ models run by local children. The gardens turn biowaste, which contributes to toxic gas emissions, into fertile soil using modern composters. The project combines three core areas: education – led by children who participate in workshops about gardening and composting; recreational – providing a community space for local people to enjoy; and a modern method of composting – with tumblers taking 30-60 days to produce fertile soil.
Speaking about her belief in the project, team member Satoe from Thailand notes: “The beauty of this project is that it can be replicated globally. I believe in the strength of the idea that these small green pockets in each urban neighbourhood can bring about a major change in the mindset of the community. When our team went out to the capital to film the video, it changed me. We visited the massive garbage dump, where we saw first-hand the overwhelming amount of waste and smelled the pungent scent of rotting waste. In my life, I was never exposed to something like this, so it had a big impact on me. I learnt that my understanding and exposure to global issues are limited, and it is the case for others as well. This made me want to promote this project even further to raise awareness of these issues.”
UWC East Africa – Coral Regeneration Project
The Coral Regeneration Project is an existing service project on the Moshi and Arusha campuses at UWC East Africa, which aims to preserve and rebuild the coral reef and marine life at Fish Eagle Point near Tanga on the Tanzanian coast. This area of coastline has been significantly affected by dynamite and drag-net fishing resulting in large areas of broken or dead coral. The project aims to raise funds to finance the building of coral nurseries and artificial coral domes, which students submerge in the ocean during outdoor pursuit trips, providing a place for coral to grow and safe shelter for fish and other marine life to live and thrive. The team believes that restoring the coral will lead to an increase in the fish population and encourage greater biodiversity, thereby providing food and livelihoods for local communities.
Project team member Felice explains how much hard work has already gone into making the project a success:
“One thing that I have learnt from this project is that someone can do anything if they really want to. As a group, we have been pushed to our absolute limits. If we weren’t moving 300-800kg coral domes out into the ocean and diving them down, we were cleaning the coral domes 16 metres down, to ensure a clean environment for marine life. Waking up at 4:30 AM to benefit from the high tide and move the raft out into the open ocean, which I never would have done back home – all this has become really something amazing for me.”
UWC South East Asia (East campus) – The Bin Project
The Bin Project aims to tackle the problem of food waste in Singapore through the use of data analytics and behavioural economics. By installing cameras on food waste bins, the project will track and classify consumer plate waste using AI object recognition. The team will then analyse the patterns and trends within the collected data and investigate the underlying causes of these results. Drawing from behavioural economics, the hope is that they will then be able to create the ‘nudges’ needed to help change consumer choices. Already running in the UWC SEA (East) canteen, the Bin Project team hopes to expand the idea to canteens across Singapore.
Team member Hanming explains why the interdisciplinary nature of the project is so important to its long-term success:
“The interdisciplinary nature of the project stands out most to me. We combine technology, behavioural economics, entrepreneurship, and public education to create a sustainable system. This multifaceted initiative suits the complex issue of food waste: each branch of the project helps cover for the weaknesses of the other, thereby creating a resilient movement that can withstand challenges. Behind this project is an equally diverse team, including a range of personalities, passions, and perspectives. In addition, we are supported by an extensive network of experts, from teachers to kitchen managers. As our initiative grows and incorporates an increasing number of stakeholders, it becomes more stable and accepted in the wider community. With our commitment, the Bin project will steadily create visible, tangible differences.”