Written by Kevin Wafula
Mwanyuma Hope Mugambi, 23, a 3rd year student in Environmental Studies and Community Development at Kenyatta University, Mombasa, Kenya was one of three winners of the 2012 Young Environmental Leader Award by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bayer.
Two other young people from Costa Rica and Vietnam were also honoured for their work in promoting sustainable development.
Hope’s project, which converts waste plastic bags into laptop cases, purses and homeware, aims to provide a sustainable solution to the environmental, health and flooding hazards of discarded polythene bags in the Mombasa area.
Along with the projects of her co-winners, Hope’s initiative was judged to display the greatest innovation, sustainability, and potential impact out of a pool of around 50 sustainable development initiatives run by young people from 19 developing and emerging countries.
The award ceremony came on the final day of the 2012 Young Environmental Envoy Programme in Leverkusen, Germany.
Beverly Kendi Nkonge (16) from Riara School, Nairobi, also represented Kenya during the week-long programme, which provides young, green innovators with insights into the latest technology being applied to waste management, resource efficiency, renewable energy and other critical environmental issues.
As part of Hope’s award-winning project, local women are trained to sew bags, table mats and other mats from plastic bags that are collected from around the community. The projects expand the skills of the local women, many of whom come from marginalized communities, and support their income through the sale of the products.
Adriana Maria Villalobos Delgado, a 20-year-old chemistry student at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica, was honoured for her project that reuses “waste” shrimp shells to extract active ingredients for the production of medicines. The project aims to find more sustainable models for the shrimp industry - one of Costa Rica’s most important economic sectors.
The third co-winner is 20-year-old Dang Huyn Mai Anh, a business administration student from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She has developed a novel approach towards reducing energy consumption and resource use in private households. Based on extensive research, she successfully designed, produced and distributed a “Green Handbook for Housewives”. The guide also includes information on economic savings that households can make from using resources more efficiently.
An expert panel from UNEP, the UNEP / Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP), Tunza Magazine, (UNEP’s publication for young people), and Bayer selected the three winners.
Each winner receives a tailor-made package worth EUR 1,000 to support and expand their projects.
“All three projects offer innovative and sound solutions to major environmental challenges of today,” said Dirk Frenzel, responsible for environmental issues at Bayer Communications, and a member of the jury.
“The winners represent the smart knowledge and extraordinary commitment of all Bayer Young Environmental Envoys.”
“From waste management to resource efficiency and awareness campaigns, both the winners of the Bayer Young Environmental Leader Award, and all of the 2012 Young Environmental Envoys, clearly demonstrate that young people across the world have the motivation, creativity and knowledge to provide concrete solutions to the world’s most critical environmental challenges,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.
“With the right kind of support, these innovative projects can be scaled up and replicated elsewhere, thus providing an important contribution to an inclusive, low carbon, resource efficient green economy, which is vital if the world is to meet the resource needs of a global population of 9 billion by 2050,” he added.
The award was presented at the closing ceremony of this year’s field trip to Germany of the “Bayer Young Environmental Envoy Programme”, a major project under the UNEP-Bayer partnership for youth and the environment.
Since its inception, some 11,200 young people have applied for a place on the programme and over 500 envoys have been selected to take part in the study tour in Germany.
The programme now covers the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Through an alumni network on Facebook and via UNEP's TUNZA youth network, envoys past and present can stay connected and exchange ideas on how to develop their individual projects.