Breaking Barriers

How do we change the mindset of a generation? Is there a particular barrier we have to cross before a message can thoroughly be conveyed and understood? One of the challenges we face within the Education pillar here at SST, is getting the youth that we teach in primary and high schools to fully understand that we have an ever-growing problem facing this generation; and this problem is plastic pollution.

In the words of the great Nelson Mandela, “sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation”. As of the launch of the African Youth Waste Network (AYWN) on 29 October 2018, SST’s education team has identified this quote as a motto to motivate the youth when it comes to dealing with the issues of plastic pollution. Yet, Africa’s youth is faced with a multitude of challenges every day before they get a chance to step into a classroom. While working with schools in Nelson Mandela Bay, we identified socio-economic challenges, language barriers, and the mere fact that there is no food at home, as factors that hinder the learning process for millions. Thus, plastic pollution is a far-fetched and an insignificant issue to the youth of Nelson Mandela Bay. Nonetheless, plastic pollution is a significant and detrimental problem that all of Africans should be aware of, especially the youth, as they have the power of influence to make a positive change.

When the education team goes into a school or community group, the first barrier we have to break is that of interaction. We’re seen as foreign, yet intriguing visitors entering their space. So, we start off with a little exercise and game to break the ice. With the understanding that the attention span of each age group is different, we try to make the presentation as fun, interactive and informative as possible. The presentation goes from the very basics of knowing that we live on planet Earth and that the blue colour we see on planet Earth is water; to the revelation that 300 kgs of waste enters our ocean every second. Unless the learners are shown thought-provoking videos and pictures of how the environment is being affected by this problem, there is always a sense of detachment from the situation; and the detachment from the environment leads to “waste-blindness” with a sense of distrust in our commitment to our cause.

Here at SST we believe that one of the keys to break these barriers is persistence and dedication. Many schools and youth organisations are so used to being visited by NGOs that want to make a difference yet fail to be persistent. However, the youth start to believe and become committed to a cause if there is a persistent, motivated and dedicated example to follow. We strongly believe in the message of putting people before the environment. The AYWN is breaking education barriers by implementing youth-driven projects that are focused primarily on caring for the people through 1) environmental education and awareness, 2) soft-skills development such as team work, responsibility, management, creativity etc and 3) creative problem solving through art and science. These are the areas that can be used to manage plastic pollution, especially when trying to transform the mindset of a generation.

The AYWN team wholeheartedly trusts that the united passion, drive and voice of the African youth can make a difference in all spheres of society. It might seem impossible for any goal to be reached as an individual, but when united under one mission and vision we can start to take steps in the right, sustainable direction. The AYWN is not the only project that seeks to educate and empower the youth of Africa. Perhaps you also run an initiative that targets the youth. Let’s work together and help change the mindset of this generation.

Change a mindset. Change a society. Change a generation.

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