The first thing Maty D. noticed when she arrived in Pennsylvania was the cleanliness of the streets and public spaces. It was a marked contrast to the streets of her hometown of Dakar, Senegal, which are often littered and polluted. While Maty observed that people in the US had developed good habits for recycling and waste management, she knew there was little awareness of similar sustainability practices in Senegal.
After experiencing clean public spaces during her high school exchange year in the US, Maty D., along with fellow exchange alumni Maty F., and Papi, came together to organize an initiative at two local high schools in Dakar to educate the next generation of Senegalese citizens about sustainability and get them involved in recycling and sorting waste.
Launching the Green Way Project
These students, still in high school, were not experts in waste management but they put together a sustainability plan, known as the Green Way project, for two high schools and encouraged their art and environmental school clubs to get involved in the effort.
The Art Club helped paint the recycled trash receptacles different colors to indicate the type of waste while the Environmental Club organized sustainability-themed quizzes and games to spark student involvement and educate them about the importance of proper waste management and recycling organics and plastics. The Green Way project members even negotiated an important collaboration with a local recycling company to ensure the plastic waste would be collected and transformed into recycled plastic cobblestones that are used in construction projects.
Maty D., the leader of the Green Way project, says, "I hope that the Green Way project will change the face of the city because the environment is the first thing one sees when they arrive in your country. I also want to draw the attention of environmental authorities in Senegal and to other young people, as they are the ones who can change this situation."
Watch the news report on the Green Way project by the Senegal national news station RTS1 in French (starting at 3:12)
Making National News
Waste management has been a national issue in Senegal but Maty D. had no idea that the launching event of the Green Way project would receive televised coverage on national news. US embassy officials and key community members participated in the Launching to support the students' efforts and have taken a strong interest in the project. A documentary on their waste management initiative is also currently in the works.
Papi, a member of the Green Way project says he joined the project because, "As a young student, and a citizen in general, I figured it was my responsibility to take a step in helping make my city a better place to live. I'm doing that by participating in the Green Way project and reducing environmental issues at the same time."
The Green Way project isn't over, in fact, it has just begun. The alumni plan to continue and expand the number of waste management educational initiatives and install trash receptacles in high schools throughout Dakar.
About the YES Program
Maty D., Maty F., and Papi all participated in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program and received a grant to conduct Green Way from the YES alumni annual grants awards program. The YES program is funded through the US Department of State to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the US Students live with host families, attend high school, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures.