Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
“When I see someone throw something into a waste bin, I feel it’s morally wrong,” says high-school student Tomas Lang. Tomas does not enjoy seeing plastic knives and forks thrown into the recycling bin every time there is a food event at his high school. He knows that polystyrene plastic does not get recycled. Furthermore, it takes centuries to break down plastic in landfill sites.
Tomas found a solution to the “throw away” habits he observed among those around him. Though most school libraries contain books and computers, Tomas has created a different kind of library; one that contains plates, forks, tumblers, knives. Thanks to Tomas, the Reusable Events Materials Library is a resource that has changed the way schools deal with waste. Sure, he knows that teachers do their part to teach about reducing, reusing, and recycling, but more action is needed, and time is running out. Landfill sites are growing and are spreading contaminants into the groundwater. Greenhouses gases are polluting the air. “Teachers can’t change things as fast as students can. They’re tied down by rules and bureaucracy,” says Tomas.
“Students aren’t as tied down by rules. They’re free to imagine. This is change from the bottom up rather than the top down.”
Tomas’ passion for conservation began at a young age. He grew up in a family that was always concerned about the environment.
“When I was a child, we had a composter in the garden. I used to go to Young Naturalists Club meetings. My parents are veterinarians we would go on outings to observe local wildlife in the lakes and woods,” remembers Tomas. “That was the way my family lived. We were always closely connected to the environment.”
These early interests have stayed with Tomas. Thanks to his initiative, Burnaby High School enjoyed its first Green Event, where students held a pancake breakfast in the gym. Tables were laden with not just pancakes, but stacks of china plates, bowls of metal knives and forks, and signs directing students on how to separate used utensils.
“It looked better. It looked cleaner. It was awesome because so much less garbage was created. Over the course of the school year, we got 2,500 uses of these plates, forks, and knives.”
That effort meant that thousands of plastic items did not end up in a landfill site.
“Undertaking this initiative wasn’t an easy ride,” cautions Tomas. “Not everyone gave me 100 percent support at the beginning.”
But with persistence and dedication to his cause, Tomas has won the support of the students and staff at his school and wants to build on his success and get the message out to other schools. His vision is to see more schools get on board and, whenever possible, to reuse before they recycle.
“I encourage my friends to think about what they’re using; to bring reusable bottles rather than disposable water bottles to school,” says Tomas. And as for the future, “I feel sustainability and environmental issues will be a part of any career I decide to pursue.”
Would you like to start a green project at your school? Do you have some doubts that you can do it? Tomas has good advice for you. “If you think you have an idea for a project, try talking to your school’s environment club, your teachers, principals, parents, and friends. Lots of people are out there to help you achieve your goals – you just need to reach out and ask for help.”
“Working on a project is a rewarding experiences,” says Tomas. “You will learn skills like leadership, perseverance, and creative problem-solving – skills which will stick with you for your whole life.”
Excerpted from “Everyone Can be a Changemaker: The Ashoka Effect” by Christine Welldon
Co-creating a space where people feel that they can speak out in spite of their fears is a vital step in the process of learning how to become a changemaker. Empathy researcher Brene Brown explains that being empathetic requires that we be present and wholly engaged without our ‘protective armour’. People wear armour to try to become invisible or fit in with others to hide what they consider to be defects or embarrassing qualities for fear of being judged, labeled, or bullied. It is difficult to feel empathy for others when you are cut off from yourself.
For this reason, we’re starting the change closest to home. Everyone in the changemaking process needs to feel valued, seen, and heard. Because of the culture we inherited and the way our brains work, all of us carry biases. This isn’t wrong or bad, it’s what we do with them that matters. Being humbled can lead to personal transformation.
The exercises below will help you to:
Once the principles of the safe space have been defined and agreed upon by all, they can be used, reinforced, and referred back to as needed throughout the time you share together.
Design Thinking & the Deskless Classroom(Exercise, Time will vary)
Create a Classroom Contract(30-45 minutes)
Learn how to listen: Are you a good listener? (video 5 min + opportunities for deeper thinking)
Empathy & Equity: From the Stanford D.school, this exercise gives designers to an opportunity to pause and notice their biases(15 min daily over the course of week).
Cross the Line: (30-60 min.) We live in a diverse world. In this exercise we will explore the diversity among us by thinking about our values, our backgrounds, our teachers, and our experiences.
CCDI: Explore Power and Privilege (Toolkit with various exercises)