By Marklyn T. Fortune (YES 2011-2012, Liberia, hosted by AIES in Florence, South Carolina)
My name is Marklyn Teneca Fortune. My surname, Fortune, has had a significant impact on my life. I have always been fortunate in school and my personal life. When the YES program came to my all-girls school, I was fortunate enough to pass the English test, convince the interviewer I had YES potential, and be chosen as one of six finalists. While in my host city of Florence, SC, the two host families I stayed with helped shape my perception of America. I learned the difference between “Hollywood America” and America at the community and family level. The generosity that my host community showed me and the extra-curricular activities I participated in at school was the fuel that changed my life, inspiring me to volunteer and view the world as a global village. The lush green of Florence, filled with parks and outdoor spaces to enjoy, also influenced my world view.
When I returned home to my small suburban community of Brewerville, Liberia, I saw a different world – one in which the environment has gone unappreciated. I saw people displaced because they could not afford to reroof their homes after heavy winds tore them off. I noticed fewer trees providing shade around our community because many trees are cut down for fire wood, and furniture designers cut down trees free from any regulations. I wanted to help my community to be greener by raising awareness and sensitizing my community, especially young people. I focused on young people because of their energy and team spirit; I knew I could use their energy as a platform to explain climate change and the consequences of human destruction of the environment.
I applied for and received a YES alumni grant to carry out an environmental awareness and tree planting project. Beginning in November 2016, my team and I recruited and trained 25 youths who are leaders in their communities and high schools. With the help of environmental experts, we presented lectures, photos, and videos depicting the effects of climate change. We also included hands on components like excursions and outdoor activities to help participants use their senses to connect with the environment. We taught the participants why trees are vital to the environment, and by June 2017, we had planted 200 trees in the community.
After an intensive eight months of project activities, 25 young people became torch bearers charged with sharing knowledge on climate change and how people can help to save the environment. Our youth participants have truly embraced the cause and have become ambassadors in spreading the goal of the project.
Our team would like to implement the project in other parts of Liberia, and we look forward to expanding our promotion of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #13. Our message has reached community leaders and the house of legislature, proving that team work at the grassroots level is a great vehicle to inspire people to stand up for change.
The project would not have been a success without the support of the YES program and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Thanks are also owed to the Liberia YES Alumni Corps, iEARN-Liberia, Monrovia YMCA, and the young people in Western Montserrado. Thanks to Prime FM who provided media coverage to communicate our message in local dialect. We also extend many thanks to journalist Gloria Tamba of the Daily Observer Newspaper for her continuous coverage.