YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: Reducing Waste While Building Communities

A group of volunteers and community members are holding garbage bags engaged in a community cleanup

By Jesse Maikarfi (YES 2015-2016, Nigeria, placed by AFS in New Lothrop, MI)

My exchange year shaped my perspective and fueled my commitment to community service, broadening my understanding of global issues and instilling a passion for environmental sustainability. Upon returning home, I observed the pressing issue of plastic waste.

Two project team members are talking to two community members on the street to raise awareness about the issue

Nigeria ranks seventh globally in plastic waste generation, contributing 2.5 million tons annually. Inadequate disposal and limited waste management infrastructure has led to pollution in the streets and waterways. Recognizing the direct impact on public health and the environment, I decided to address this challenge through a YES Alumni Grant project.

My project aimed at creating awareness and educating four Kaduna communities about the environmental impact of plastic waste and the importance of waste management through community-led cleanups and the transformation of plastic waste into eco-friendly construction materials. To start, we mobilized over 30 volunteers, who engaged 1,500 people over months of community outreach and discussion.

Image of the constructed walkway made out of the plastic waste bricks

Simultaneously, our radio awareness efforts reached approximately 40% of Kaduna's population (an estimated 463,200 people), laying the foundation for the subsequent community cleanups, through which we collected and processed over 310 kilograms of plastic waste. This plastic waste was used to produce over 300 eco-friendly bricks, which were used to pave a walkway at a local public school.

Our project’s goal was to motivate the diverse residents of Kaduna to get involved in the process of finding solutions to plastic pollution. People from all walks of life actively engaged in this project and recognized the urgency of sustainable waste management. Our initiative addressed the urgent need for waste reduction, empowered the community to take ownership of their environment, and offered a tangible solution to combatting plastic pollution. We measured a positive shift in awareness and a commitment to sustainable practices through surveys and participant testimonials. Beyond mere statistics, the project empowered the community and heightened environmental consciousness.

Looking ahead, I foresee the continuation of effective waste management practices, ongoing production of eco-friendly construction materials, and the incorporation of environmental education into local schools. By sparking policy discussions and advocating for change, the lasting impact of the project will contribute to a cleaner, greener Kaduna.

A stack of bricks manufactured with the collected plastic

This journey has been enlightening, highlighting the power of collective action. Our project volunteers' commitment and the community's receptiveness reinforced the potential for positive change. I have learned that community-driven initiatives are pivotal, and small actions collectively lead to significant impact.

The project not only produced bricks – it served as a testament to the potential for communities to drive change when united by a common goal. It embodied the spirit of the YES program's commitment to positive global impact.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES Program, and all the organizations that work together to make the YES program successful for the invaluable support throughout my journey and during this project. A special thanks to all our partners and volunteers for their collaboration, commitment, and expertise. And a huge shout out to the team of YES Alumni in Kaduna, who played a crucial role in showcasing the strength of collaborative efforts in community development.

Four members of the project team pose behind a banner with the project title