Raising awareness about the present and future threats of climate change is one of the goals of the national and international organisations gearing up for the 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) that Egypt will host in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, reports Mahmoud Bakr.
One such organisation is the Cairo Climate Talks affiliated to the German Embassy in Cairo. The project, supported by the German Foreign Ministry, was run in cooperation with the German Goethe Institute and the Egyptian ministries of the environment and education. The participating schools are part of the Schools of the Future Initiative, which was kickstarted at the beginning of the year under the title “Eco-Heroes”.
Heba Hambouta, coordinator of the initiative at the Goethe Institute and supervisor of Eco-Heroes, said that out of 300 students on a mission to raise awareness about mitigating the effects of climate change, 90 were selected from 10 schools in Alexandria, Cairo, Damanhour, and Sohag. Together with the ministries of the environment and education, civil society organisations such as You Think Green, and the Goethe Institute and German Embassy in Cairo represented by students, aged between 12 and 14, helped put in place an awareness programme, held workshops, and organised field trips over four weeks.
The activities were meant to identify environmental challenges, ways to adapt to them in local communities, and possible solutions through projects the students had worked out at school. The project resulted in 10 initiatives that aim to alert people about the dangers facing the environment, Hambouta said.
During the workshops, the students visited factories for recycling plastic and a plant for generating solar power. They were also introduced to sustainable irrigation and greenhouse projects.
Besides educating them about the repercussions of climate change on the local environment and encouraging them to think of ways to adapt to and mitigate its effects, the project gathered students from different governorates to open up possibilities for environmental work nationwide, Hambouta added.
Three winning initiatives were selected from the 10 put forward by a jury made up of three experts. The first prize went to the Sohag Experimental School and its “Smart Roads” project that includes providing safe roads for students and a bike path as a clean alternative to cars, she said.
The Al-Quds School in Alexandria won second prize with a project to transform used cooking oil into soap. The students proposed collecting used cooking oil from their households and turning it into two kinds of soap.
The third award went to the Future School for its “Future is a Drop” project that aims to reduce the consumption of water by installing filters at schools and homes and conducting awareness campaigns to rationalise water consumption, Hambouta said.
Gihan Zaki, deputy director of the Goethe Institute in Alexandria, said the students had gone on exploratory trips and had visited the plastic recycling complex in Cairo, the solar energy complex at the Faculty of Science at Alexandria University, and the Qaraman Ecological Island in Sohag.
They had exhibited their work and the activities they had been involved in to preserve the environment in short documentaries.
SKILLS AND STRATEGIES: “One of the strategies that the Goethe Institute is adopting is to help young people boost abilities that cannot be replaced in the future with other resources, such as problem-solving, innovation, resilience, empathy, and determination,” said Sebastian Wouter, director of the Language Department at the Goethe Institute in Cairo and regional officer for the Middle East and North Africa.
“These are called ‘21st-century skills,’ of which the best example is the Eco-Heroes project,” he said.
Sherif Okasha, supervisor of the “Smart Roads” project, said that the “You Think Green team helped the students by holding a workshop to introduce them to environmental problems, especially those in Sohag, such as the use of fossil fuels in the production of electricity.”
The school team agreed on the “Smart Roads” project in order to hit two birds with one stone: decreasing the use of fossil fuel and replacing it with a source of clean energy and reducing electricity consumption,” he added.
“Some 92 per cent of Egypt’s electricity is generated from fossil fuel. Meanwhile, Sohag is close to the sunbelt, so the best source of energy we can use is solar power. This is how we came up with the idea for the project,” Okasha said.
Iman Fahd, supervisor of the team at the Sohag Experimental School, said that “each student learned a lot from this project, such as team work and respecting the opinions of others. Because we used computer programming in the project, the children learned about this as well and about the fact that this is the language of the future.”
Thomas Medhat, 15, and a team member, said that if implemented the project would help to preserve the environment and reduce air pollution and the spread of respiratory diseases.
Sama Yousri, 14, who also participated in the project, said that it had economic and environmental benefits because it was based on the idea that street lamps, working on solar energy, would light up only when they detect a vehicle.
“This way we can extend the lifespan of the lamps and save power that can be stored in batteries for later use,” she said.
Ahmed Ali, 15, said he had contacted professor Mohamed Kamal, in charge of innovation at Sohag University, to put the project on show at the University. He said that his school would hold a permanent exhibition for students who want to implement projects or develop existing ones.
Zeina Alaa, 14, from Al-Quds School, said the workshop had helped the team during the brainstorming phase. One student had said that her grandmother still made soap at home from used cooking oil, she added.
Fourteen-year-old Rawan Wael, a member of the same team, said the project was meant to raise awareness about the importance of coming up with solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change on the environment.
“It also encouraged us to work as a team, and it taught us that there is still hope and that our voices are being heard,” she said. “Families in need can also implement this project in order to earn money. We are currently targeting these families to teach them how to make soap using cooking oil.”
One of the projects participating in the initiative was presented by the Netertari International School. Joumana Essam, 16, stated that “we participated in the initiative with the ‘Pronet’ project to conduct awareness campaigns against the dangers of plastic waste on children and its role in the development of hypertension and cancer. We posted short videos on social media and manufactured toys made of wood for children, promoting them for sale at nurseries, on social media, and among parents.”
Nilly Mansour, 15, a team member of Pronet, said that “we gained various skills from this project. We learned how to depend on ourselves, and we will continue selling these toys at reduced prices.”
The Green Valley School presented an agricultural project in which the students made pots and sold plants they had cultivated. “We also distributed pamphlets encouraging people to preserve the environment and educating them about the importance of plants for the climate,” said Sara Hamdi Ahmed, 13.
She said that they were facing obstacles “such as the lack of space for planting at the school. We are currently seeking the approval of the Obour City Administrative Authority to plant a roundabout in front of the school” that can be used as a planting area.
Mohamed Gharib, 13, said that students had sold plants to people in the neighbourhood along with fertilisers made from food remains. His team had learned how to care for plants at home and about readying land for agricultural use.
Malak Selim, 14, said the project had had a positive effect. Besides making available products such as lemons from the lemon trees they had planted, it also had a decorative side, she said, as “the beauty of the plants and trees we planted in the project will encourage other people to follow suit.”
Safeya Awad, 13, said the team was determined to expand the project. “We will continue to encourage our community to plant more trees for the sake of the environment,” she concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.