By Aryan Azim (YES 2017-2018, Bangladesh, placed with IRIS in Harcourt, IA)
My exchange year in the U.S. changed my whole outlook towards life and made me a more mature, flexible, and open-minded individual. The more I started to see this change within me, the more I found a spiritual satisfaction by knowing more about people and getting connected to people from different backgrounds. This inspired me to get myself more involved in community service activities. Another way I formed this idea to make a difference in my community is definitely from witnessing the spirit of kindness practiced among the people of my host community, and Iowan people in general. A big credit goes to my host mom, host dad, and host granny, from whom I learned that no matter how successful we become in life, it’s our moral duty to spend time in the service of others.
Upon returning from YES Program, during our re-entry orientation (July 2018), we were given a starting assignment as alumni, which was to design a community service project within 2 days, along with a detailed budget description and our funding sources. The project coule be of a maximum duration of one day. As I discussed the assignment with my family, they instructed me to think of something simple yet meaningful and sustainable. My father suggested a tree planting program in my school, from which I later on developed a more elaborate project. Thus, Project Dream Green was born. It first started as a demo project at my old school, where we planted a few saplings with my old classmates and inspired each other to continue this habit. Later on, the idea of including anti-littering awareness within school campuses was added, which we implemented on the next two outings of Project Dream Green: once in a small primary school in my village in August 2018 and the other time during GYSD 2019, which was done in a local Madrasah (Islamic religious school for children) in Dhaka.
Project Dream Green aspires to build an eco-friendly earth for future generations. The project involves an Environmental- and Hygiene-based Awareness Campaign and a Training Program for students, especially in urban areas. Addressing some of the alarming anti-environment and anti-hygiene issues that have unfortunately become widely accepted habits, the campaign focuses on encouraging these young kids to realize the severe negative impacts of:
- Littering (including lack of bathroom hygiene in school campuses and public places);
- Excessive polythene usage; and,
These three issues are at the heart of Project Dream Green; in fact, they are the three most crucial and common environmental pollution issues in Bangladesh, especially in urban and semi-urban areas. Beyond their long-lasting impact on the climate, these habits have been critically affecting public lifestyle and health on a daily basis, ultimately leaving permanent damage to the soil, water, air—the whole surrounding ecosystem. Among all the major problems in the modern world there are to solve, environmental issues were always the ones that intrigued me the most since the time I was a little kid dreaming to be a changemaker.
All first, the project was organized as various one-day activation events with very short-term goals. In 2019, when I first learned about the IRIS Global Grant, I realized that I had the chance to establish Project Dream Green as a long-term and sustainable project. I applied for the grant with a detailed plan of a year-long campaign, which included a training program that aimed to engender sustainable behavior change for a green and clean school campus in ten schools—five each in the cities of Dhaka and Sylhet. Our project won the IRIS Global Grant, alongside six other recipients, in 2019.
Our target audience is students between 6th–10th grade, though anyone in 4th-12th grade is welcome to join. The training program in each school follows the same pattern. First, there is an interactive presentation and discussion seminar with all the students. The speakers from the project team discuss the three main environmental themes of the project and the students are told about inspiring stories, innovations, and methods used to mitigate environmental challenges. The students are also asked to share their own experiences and views about pollution. Afterward, the students are put into smaller groups to plant some small tree saplings (of flowers and fruit), which stay in their schoolyard and are looked after by students and staff. The students also make cardboard trash boxes that are installed in order to dispose of plastic wastes. Project Dream Green monitors the school’s progress through constant contact with teachers and student representatives and holds follow-up visits every two months. At the end of the year, the school is graded on its activities, and the three most eco-friendly schools out of the ten are chosen and announced at a grand ceremony.
Up until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project had already been initiated in three schools. The biggest achievement for the whole Team Dream Green has been encouraging vigor and discipline among youth in their awareness about the environment and determination to develop positive, environmentally conscious habits. This has paved the way for sustainable change; the generation of youth today will have different views and practices about nature and cleanliness. Communal, business, and public places will be free from littering and pollution—green and clean!
In addition to my work with Project Dream Green, I am also actively involved with the YES Alumni Bangladesh Association. I have been acting as the Associate Alumni Development Officer in the Executive Committee since September 2019, where I have the role of organizing and formulating new ideas for youth development-based workshops. I was a speaker for the Re-Entry Orientation of the newly returned YES scholars in 2020, where I spoke about how the newly returned YES exchange students could approach their academic life and how they can transition from high school to college. I have also volunteered in more than ten different projects with YES Alumni Bangladesh, including the YES Digital Storytelling Workshop in 2018, Self Defense 101 Workshop, Workshop on Spirit of Volunteerism, and many more. Before YES, I never had any experience of leadership and community development-based activities, but now I plan to continue them—following the completion of my college applications—into the future.
Learn more about Aryan's YES exchange experience and work with Project Dream Green on this IRIS podcast episode.