American University in Bulgaria
Young people are the agents of change, and small cities and villages are the living labs where high-school students can shape local communities and help them embrace environmental policies and behaviors. We will give high-school students from marginalized communities the tools of debate, local activism, political knowledge and local governmental action so they can make their communities environmentally sustainable and thriving.
Blagoevgrad County, Southwest Bulgaria
Low-income and unemployment are the wicked problems that challenge everyday existence in entire Southwest Bulgaria, and young people are particularly vulnerable since they see no horizon of opportunities. When your parents and relatives struggle financially, and economic insecurity plagues your childhood, it is hard to feel empowered and act to the benefit of your community.
We want to allow high-schoolers to feel empowered, to acquire the joy of shaping the future of their communities and region, and most importantly, to embrace their connection with nature and realize that the pristine environment in their communities can help them live better and create businesses that have a strong connection with nature.
We will engage high-school students aged 14-18. They all attend public schools in Blagoevgrad or the small cities in the Southwest region in Bulgaria. These are nearly 2,000 students who are predominantly coming from low-income families and hope to move to a bigger city where they have more employment opportunities or continue their education. While we want to see them successful in pursuing their dreams, we want to show them the various ways they can develop leadership skills, change their community, and become responsible, ethical leaders. We also want to establish a sense of belonging, appreciation and commitment towards preserving and contributing to their communities.
Utilizing the power of peer learning, we will engage AUBG students to serve as mentors and educators of the high-school students; they will help them overcome insecurities and fears to gain confidence and voice. AUBG students and faculty will then assign different roles to the high school students, representing diverse stakeholders. Students will work on specific green issues to learn about the unique assets and natural resources in their communities. We will organize mini city-hall sessions, mock meetings between the high-school students, where they will represent different constituencies, allowing students to test their abilities to build dialogue and solutions and experience first-hand advocacy.
We will also utilize digital tools, such as mobile apps, to track environmental parameters like air pollution. We can gamify the student experience by promoting online-based educational games, where high schoolers can compete and showcase their knowledge.
The culmination of our program will be when students visit AUBG Campus – we want them to experience our first-class facilities, meet faculty members and experience the European Parliament event that our students put together. The end of the program will be marked by high-school visits and meetings with the mayor of their cities and council members, where they will receive the opportunity to share their ideas for solutions.
Our biggest goal is a change of attitude among young people who will see how their efforts come to fruition and how the advocacy work can transform their communities by tackling environmental issues. We will track this by surveys capturing levels of confidence, knowledge and engagement. On the other hand, we want to see a fundamental change in the communities. The goal is to create a living lab for the students and help cities open opportunities for businesses and small civil society organizations to act in preserving and promoting environmentally friendly practices. More specifically, and inspired by the great fire of 2017, we aim to create a game promoting forest fire prevention.
By empowering young people to participate in decision-making and observe the power of their campaigns, research and work. We have complete confidence that once educated by our students and faculty members on the potential of the tools and skills we will share with them, high-school students will never be apathetic and disengaged. By seeing how their actions are changing their surroundings, young people will experience the joy of recognizing their community members. They will be able to use the mechanisms that the democratic society is giving them – participation, working with local authorities, engaging community members and activism. These are the very core values of civic engagement and democracy, and that the earlier we introduce young people to these values, the better for our society.
The team behind the project will comprise various AUBG constituents: the AUBG Dean of Students, students clubs (The AUBG Better Community Club and the AUBG Environmental Club), AUBG faculty, students and staff.
This project is important to us, as contributing to our community and advancing green causes is rooted deeply in the AUBG values. Not only do we initiate and participate in numerous charity and good deed events, but we also hold the annual AUBG Environment Week each spring, where we dedicate our efforts to advancing environmental awareness in our local community. We plan to organize this event as part of the project and include components like lectures, round table discussions, tree or flower plantings, etc.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
= Materials (sharing content on digital falsh drives, materials for Earth Day week): 5000 EUR
= Stipends for AUBG students who will be implementing the program (9 students x1500each): 13500 EUR
= Transportation to and from cities for AUBG and high school students so they can visit AUBG Campus: 5000 EUR
= Salaries for participating faculty and leadership who will advice and provide guidance to the project: 3000 EUR