By Nicolette Lau (YES 2017-2018, South Africa, placed by AFS in Colorado Springs, CO)
I am Nicky, a YES alumna currently studying law and international relations while also pursuing my passion as a professional dancer. The YES program has shaped my perspective on life in many ways, giving me the confidence and belief that I can make anything possible with a determined mindset, supportive network, and grit! During my exchange year, I learned that the personal connections we build can teach us more nuanced details about culture than any textbook ever could. My journey of adapting to a new country, immersing myself in a foreign culture, and overcoming the challenges of living with a brand-new family molded me into an independent, resilient, and tenacious individual. These invaluable soft skills continue to empower me as I confront the rapidly changing challenges of today's world.
One challenge I see in my community is that many people seem oblivious of their carbon footprint and have limited knowledge about global warming, leading to litter, inadequate recycling, and a general lack of environmental concern. This problem impacts everyone as we share the same polluted air and environment. Fortunately, my community excels at sharing news, networking, and collaborating to contribute to the success of projects that benefit our wellbeing. Inspired by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals of Climate Action and Life on Land, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to conduct a project aimed at helping combat climate change and reduce carbon in the atmosphere using the spekboom plant. The spekboom plant is exceptional in the fight against climate change. It stores solar energy during the day to perform photosynthesis at night. On average, one hectare of spekboom can offset one person’s annual carbon footprint.
My Spekboom Project kicked off with a climate change awareness presentation to 150 primary school students. The presentation included information about global warming, the greenhouse gas effect, ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and the benefits of spekboom. Participants eagerly engaged in a Q&A session, discussing how they can reduce their own carbon footprint and ways to reduce and reuse plastic waste in their households. Following the presentation, participants and other volunteers planted 45 spekboom plants in repurposed two-liter soda bottles.
The goal of the project was to create awareness around climate change and brainstorm ideas with the students to create a multiplier effect. By directly involving the children and teaching them the value of biodiversity, we can make a difference together. The long-term goal is to transfer these plants from their plastic containers to be planted on the school grounds, enhancing the school's aesthetics while significantly increasing its carbon-absorbing capacity. Additionally, we will encourage the students to take cuttings home to grow these plants in their own gardens.
Through this project, I learned that I don’t have to do everything alone; with more people, I will go further. My heartfelt gratitude goes to the YES program, the U.S Department of State, AFS and its volunteers, the student participants, teachers, my parents, and my aunt – all of whom played a tremendous role in turning this project from a vision into a resounding success.