Changing our approach, not the climate: A green lifestyle challenge by young people

Changing our approach, not the climate: A green lifestyle challenge by young people

Students and teachers from Yeghegnadzor unveil their project to combat climate change

n an effort to reduce a growing mountain of waste in Yeghegnadzorthe, Armenia, up to two tons of garbage is burned every week. “The landfill remains unfenced, allowing the potential spread of diseases through animals, while the toxic smoke emitted from the burning garbage poses a threat to the health of nearby residents,” says Henry Aleksanyan, student at Yeghegnadzor public school #2.

Recognizing the urgent need for change, Henry, together with his friends became school advocates for embracing a green lifestyle in his community.

“The challenge lies not in changing the climate, but in changing ourselves, the way we live and the influence we make have on the environment,” he asserts.

In addition to the community landfill, it is a common practice among citizens to burn garbage and dried leaves, often unaware of the damage it causes. Henry’s team member Milena Melikyan is aware of the adverse effects of such practices on the environment and on people, understanding that burning waste or discarding it haphazardly initiates a harmful chain reaction, affecting us directly.

“The process of combustion releases carbon dioxide, which can contribute to a range of diseases, including cancer,” warns Milena. “Simultaneously, it increases the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to the greenhouse effect. This fuels global warming and climate change, leading to a rise in the cases of desertification.”

Henry and Milena are part of a group of 15 eighth graders from Yeghegnadzor public school #2 who have been looking into the causes of climate change and its consequential risks. Led by teachers trained by UNICEF, Veronika Hakobyan and Aghavnik Yeghiazaryan, the young learners have undertaken project work, addressing critical questions about the detrimental impact of burning garbage and the urgent need for waste reduction measures.

At the heart of this project lays a vital mission: to raise public awareness and devise solutions for enhancing waste management while mitigating the adverse consequences of waste incineration.

In the 2022-2023 academic year, UNICEF has worked with the National Center for Education Development and Innovation and Ayb Foundation to train over 400 teachers including Mrs Hakobyan and Mrs Yeghiazaryan.

The training has been made possible with the financial support of the Austrian Development Agency and as a result has reached 33 consolidated communities across Shirak, Gegharkunik, Tavush, Lori, Syunik and Vayots Dzor marzes. The tailored training sessions have provided middle school teachers with the skills and information to engage students in project-based learning on climate change. As a result, students have identified, initiated and led 275 projects to tackle climate and environmental issues. In 2023, UNICEF will grant 52 projects with seed funding for further piloting or scale up.

Mrs Hakobyan, a Russian language teacher at the school emphasizes the importance of getting a wide range of new skills from the training sessions, including the ability to engage students in group work beyond the confines of the classroom, demonstrating a creative approach, effectively utilizing information and communication technologies and other tools. The sessions helped her delve deeper into lesson planning, as well as foster better cooperation with her students.

“I am now capable of executing subject-specific and interdisciplinary projects with great efficacy. Furthermore, I can also support other teachers in carrying out such projects. I have realized the importance of communicating with students beyond the traditional classroom setting, employing various techniques and methods to foster their creative abilities. Through project implementation, students frequently take the initiative to search for information and acquire new knowledge. I can see how this boosts their motivation to learn. Consequently, students attain a solid foundation of subject knowledge, develop teamwork skills and gain the ability to acquire necessary information from reliable sources,” shares Hakobyan.

The project-based work empowers students to transition from passive listeners to active and creative individuals.

The students’ team is split into different sub-groups. The information group focused on exploring the correlation between climate change and the burning of garbage, as well as its adverse effects, including the generation of greenhouse gases and the consequences of global warming.

Meanwhile, the legislative group delved into studying relevant legislation and state policies about the issue. They also conducted a comparative analysis of the policies implemented by different countries.

Lastly, the journalistic group sifted through the information gathered by the other two groups. They conducted interviews with residents, local officials that oversee environmental issues, and specialists, comparing statistical data and analysing the overall findings.

Reflecting on the project work, Milena highlights a significant shift in their perspective toward the environment.

“We have come to realize that we, along with our fellow citizens play a role in the global changes occurring on our planet. We gathered information on climate change from various websites and thoroughly discussed it with our teachers. Moreover, we have actively shared this information with younger students,” she explains.

The dissemination of videos, information materials and thematic slides created during the project has yielded positive outcomes. Inspired by their newfound knowledge, students from the 6th and 7th grades have designed posters that raise awareness about climate change and the detrimental effects of burning garbage. These posters have been prominently displayed throughout the school for all students to see. Additionally, a group of children has repurposed waste materials and transformed them into new objects.

Mrs Yeghiazaryan, a geography teacher at the school, highlights the efforts made by her students to educate members of the community on composting as an alternative to burning organic waste. “Compost is a precious resource. Instead of burning leaves, we can create valuable compost that is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Compost is an organic fertilizer that forms through the action of microorganisms; it looks like hummus and is not expensive to do,” she says.

The work to prevent the burning of leaves will commence this fall. Yeghiazaryan emphasizes the importance of volunteer groups conducting explanatory and awareness campaigns during this period.

“While people may be aware that their actions contribute to environmental pollution, they may not be aware of the alternative solutions available. The goal is to impart knowledge about the composting process and its effectiveness,” she explains. Yeghiazaryan also suggests the inclusion of eco-education classes in schools.

While the teachers and students have united around a shared goal: to create a cleaner and a greener community, this vision requires the support of the state. Henry highlights the suggestions he and his friends put forth during the project work: “It is crucial to establish substantial fines for burning garbage, construct garbage processing facilities and sanitary landfills, and conduct awareness campaigns to encourage people to abandon plastic bags, engage in proper waste sorting, and minimize plastic usage.”

The climate crisis is a child rights crisis, with the youngest and most vulnerable children bearing the greatest toll form its impact. Both children and adults around the world, including in Armenia are already feeling its impact.

“In Armenia, like the rest of the world, numerous causes are contributing to climate change. To effectively address these issues, adapt and mitigate their impact, all parties must join forces: the government, local self-government bodies, organizations, schools, preschool institutions, and families. UNICEF, through its collaboration with all entities, firmly believes that adolescents have a significant role to play. They can be agentsof change and serve as a driving force that leads to tangible outcomes within individual communities, benefiting not only the country but also the planet as a whole,” emphasizes Mkrtich Dallakyan, UNICEF’s Climate Change Programme Officer.



December 07, 2023 at 12:22