In 2021, Digital Promise and Ciena launched the Ciena Solutions Challenge, a global design challenge inviting middle and high school students to design solutions that address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is the second in our series in which educators from around the world share their experiences facilitating the Ciena Solutions Challenge with students. Featured below are lessons from educator Theode Niyirinda who facilitated the “Plant a Tree, Plant the Future” and “Don’t Be Drastic, and Say NO to Plastic” student project teams at Gayaza High School, all-girls boarding secondary school, in Kampala, Uganda.
For a long time, students at Gayaza High School have visited pupils at a neighboring primary school to tutor in math and facilitate community projects. Each time the students visited, they observed an environmental picture different from Gayaza High School. Over time, the girls became concerned about plastic waste and the gradual disappearance of trees. The majority of the community are farmers, and plastic waste is an issue impacting everyone, from the effects on the soil, to the risk to animals, to the contamination of water systems making them unsafe for consumption.
The girls decided that it was time for action and joined the Ciena Solutions Challenge with a clear focus in mind. They met as a class to watch videos on how other communities have overcome the challenge of plastics and brainstormed ideas for tackling the challenge in the community. To better understand the magnitude of the challenge in their own community, they conducted a survey to learn about people’s shopping habits, what they use to carry goods home, and how they dispose of plastics after using them at home.
The Ciena Solutions Challenges gives students an opportunity to understand the challenges in their community, which opens up their world. – Theode Niyirinda, Educator
Conducting a survey grounded students in the problem they were trying to solve and motivated them to come up with solutions. Students discovered that community members were prioritizing convenience when it came to plastic use. These findings cut across the community and led the girls to see the need to change people’s attitudes toward the environment and encourage sustainability. The girls decided to start a campaign targeting their school peers and pupils in the neighboring schools, recognizing that the future belongs to them and that they can play a key role in alleviating the challenge in their communities. Their campaign came from this belief that youth can be good ambassadors of change when they have the right information.
The students’ campaign themes, “Plastics Don’t Litter, People Do,” Don’t Be Drastic, Stop Littering,” and “The Trees Hold our Lungs; Plant a Tree, Plant a Future,” have been carried throughout the community. On top of sensitizing peers in their own school and neighboring schools about proper disposal of plastics, students are scaling to other schools with the hopes of building a movement of youth who care about their environment.
When the students started on the activities, it was more fun than they had anticipated and recruiting more changemakers is making this challenge even more interesting. – Theode Niyirinda, Educator
To build their reach, students set up a blog to document their actions and share with a wider community. Throughout the process, students have gained insights and skills that will help them in their future careers, from working in teams, to collaborating towards a common goal, to communicating effectively and gaining ICT skills.
After winning the Ciena Solutions Sustainability Award to scale the project, Janice K., one of the students in the campaign reflected, “within the depth of our hearts, we know it is the first step ahead of a long journey of fighting for a greener and cleaner world.”