As part of the five-week SUSI institute (Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders on Global Environmental Issues), the East-West Center recently hosted a showcase of student-generated solutions for local environmental problems. The ‘Gallery of Eco-solutions’ focused on four themes: sustainable agriculture and food security; waste management; watersheds; and climate change and energy. “In Burma, we don’t have environmental studies at the public universities,” noted Nshang “Grace” Seng Bu from the University of Myitkyina in Kachin State, Burma. “So, this is a very special opportunity for us to really focus on these critical issues.”
The 20 undergraduate student leaders from Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, have backgrounds ranging from the study of basic medicine and the effects of climate change on human health to marine biology, and water-purification and renewable energy research to information technology. With an emphasis on practical application, the students explained how they would bring these solutions back to their home countries to fuel the sustainability movement there.
“In Malay sia, there are 930 tons of food waste being thrown away each day,” pointed out Jin Yow Thai, an environmental management student from University Putra Malaysia in Selangor. “I want to make my country a zero waste country, so that food doesn’t go to the landfill. For my personal action plan, I will work to raise awareness and acceptance of composting and will begin by helping to establish a composting facility in my previous elementary school. Based on that model, I would like to implement similar composting programs in schools and universities across the country, and maybe in 10-20 years every household will compost their food waste. Right now it is still in the beginning stages in Malaysia.”
A ngeli Guadalupe, a medical student from the University of the Philippines – Manila, had another approach towards tackling the challenges of waste management. “In the Philippines we have huge mountains of trash and incineration is banned,” she explained. “It is a major environmental problem linked with significant health risks. My long-term goal is to establish an efficient, non-corrupt waste management company; and my immediate goal is to get Styrofoam and plastic bags banned in Manila. I will initiate a signature campaign and mobilize youth leaders and organizations to influence policy makers. Hopefully, after five years, other cities will replicate the policies and it will be banned throughout the country.”
Grace Seng Bu’s aim is to learn the techniques of organic farming. “This is very important to bring back to my country (Burma) in order to help reduce the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” she commented. “My first step is to encourage people to use home food waste in a useful way. The vermicomposting techniques I learned in this program can help people with small family gardens to create organic fertilizer and reduce waste at the same time.”
Through the SUSI program, Chavanant Roongchao, an engineering major at Thammasat University in Thailand, has been studying electric vehicle policies in the US and how to promote the use of electric vehicles among the public. “I would like to bring electric vehicles back to Thailand, first focusing on the city of Pattaya, my hometown, where about 50% of the population is tourists,” explained Roongchao. “I plan to create a pilot project where the local government, in partnership with an auto manufacturer in the area, will sponsor the use of an electric vehicle for use as public transportation. This will help promote a much cleaner environment, which will attract more tourists, while also reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. The pilot project will in turn serve as a good model to help convince the government to switch to electric vehicles for all public transportation.”
To learn more about these projects, the SUSI program, and to read the action plans of the other SUSI participants, visit: http://www.susieastwestcenter.com. This innovative program, funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is designed to foster a greater understanding of the U.S. environmental movement and aid in the development of more resilient communities in Southeast Asia. Click here to view a video overview of the SUSI program from 2011. Applications for SUSI 2013 will be available in Fall 2012 at the U.S. Embassy website.
(Posted on June 6, 2012)