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Student Solutions to Significant Global Problems

by Ana O'Quin and Lisa Tyrrell 

How is society going to address pressing global issues, like hunger, poverty, and climate change?  Tenth grade student, Ana O'Quin from the Academy of Global Studies at Austin High School and Lisa Tyrrell, the Director of Asia Society's International Studies School Network, share a story of high school students making a world of difference.

Hands-On Learning

Earlier this year, sophomore students at the Academy of Global Studies at Austin High School (AGS) visited Earth University in Costa Rica, where co-eds from Latin America, Asia, and Africa gain the knowledge and skills needed to achieve environmental, social, and economic security in their home countries. These college students shared their understanding of world problems and importantly, their ideas for solutions with the AGS tenth grade class.

AGS students learned how hunger impacts children and families in third world countries and how agricultural advancements are being used to feed the poor.  They visited Earth University's Integrated Organic Farm where they learned about sustainable food practices.

On the livestock farm, AGS students learned how to naturally treat waste from cows and pigs to create fertilizer for their crops and how to generate methane gas from the animal waste to fuel daily activities such as cooking and heating. The students then saw this in action and had the chance to interact with Costa Rican farmers and their families during their visits to fincas (independent farms).

After the experience at Earth University and the finca farms, students were eager to give back to the Costa Rican community.  The sophomores visited an indigenous reservation located deep in Costa Rica's tropical rain forest where the BriBri people reside. At the BriBri reservation students planted trees, built a rock wall for a community garden, painted the walls of a nursing home, and picked up plastic trash. As a tribe that lives of the land and naturally processes their waste, plastic trash is a real problem since they have no disposal system.  

Applying Knowledge Locally

Equipped with both motivation and resources from Costa Rica, these sophomores launched themselves into a project called "Thinking Globally, Problem-Solving Locally, and Acting Neighborly" (TGPLAN). The semester long endeavor inspired sophomores to address issues that they had seen firsthand in Costa Rica, identify and research them, and formulate an action plan with their fellow peers to solve issues locally.

To begin, AGS students spent hours on extensive research. Groups interviewed experts in their field and spent weeks becoming experts themselves through personal fact-finding. March brought the most exciting aspect of the project: taking action. According to student Hannah Bills, AGS kids realized that they could "change the world no matter how big or small you think your impact may be."

Each group, spurred and moved by first-hand accounts of issues from Costa Rica and prepared with their new expertise, worked hard to fix these issues locally. As explained by one student: "once these problems start to diminish locally and nationally, then problem solvers can start tackling them globally."

One group working against child poverty donated five hundred books to low income Austin schools and began a buddy reading program, while another advocated the importance of attending high school. Students facing issues of deforestation and climate change in Austin, planted trees at Bastrop and spoke at middle schools regarding the issue. Bastrop is a city in Texas that has been subject to widespread forest fires, leaving parts of the city barren of live trees.

Multiple groups concerned with hunger and unhealthy eating habits, implemented take action plans ranging from handing out organic food to customers at McDonalds to creating their very own organic farms. It took multiple tries to convince the McDonald's employees to allow them to hand out the packages, yet they received "numerous appreciative acceptances," says student Caleb Short. Still other groups continued tackling issues such as human trafficking, animal abuse, and homelessness by creating massive public announcements ranging from "chalking up" downtown Austin to school poster boards.

Even after these successful take-action plans took place, students at AGS continued to make an impact with advocacy projects regarding their issues. Some created extensive websites and brochures, while other projects varied from clever t-shirts to beautiful paintings. April 30 brought an anticipated night of dozens of visitors to Austin High witnessing the rewards of a semester of hard work and incredible impact.

Countless sophomores at AGS testify that the combined Costa Rican and TGPLAN experience changed the lives of both themselves and the people around them. The impact will have a long-lasting effect on their lives.  Ines Malti states that they will "never stop advocating for or taking action on" the issue that they tackled. 

Follow Lisa and Asia Society on Twitter. 

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