In this third year of Young Aurora (previously named “Aurora Humanitarian Project for UWC Schools and Colleges”), the innovative ideas and well researched plans put forward by all competing teams demonstrated the students’ keenness to tackle humanitarian challenges which they encounter in their school’s vicinity. Strengthening this humanitarian spirit was the core principle behind the founding of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative which, on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, established a number of programs that empower those who offer help and hope to people in urgent need of humanitarian aid around the world. Among these programs is Young Aurora, which encourages, showcases and supports student-driven projects addressing concrete humanitarian issues and offering solutions through innovative and sustainable approaches. Last year, the final round of the 2018 Aurora Humanitarian Project for UWC Schools and Colleges was held on June 8, 2018 at the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan, Armenia. After a highly competitive selection process, the final presentation took place within the Aurora Dialogues Additional Programming and UWC Changshu China’s project HOPE was named the winner.

This year, fourteen projects were submitted for the Young Aurora prize by student teams from across twelve UWC schools and colleges and the African Leadership Academy. They address a wide range of issues, from migration to menstrual health and from civic engagement among the young to community support for the elderly. The submitted projects were mentored and evaluated by a host of experienced humanitarians and entrepreneurs along seven core criteria: creativity, sustainability, quality of research, impact, commitment, self-reflection and format. The criteria seek to ensure that the projects are set up with a view to enact a long-term impact. To help meet these goals, the jury provides each team with detailed feedback so that whether they proceed to the final stage in Armenia or not, each project can go on to flourish. Therefore, while the teams each choose a specific issue to tackle, together they are learning the skills to enact a far greater humanitarian change.

The opportunities that Young Aurora offers participating students to refine and build on their skills to become future change-makers is precisely what two members of the jury, Colin Habgood, UWC International Board member and co-founder of GoMakeaDifference and Ivana Situm, UWC alumna and UWC International Council Member, consider to be so invaluable. As Colin points out, “this development opportunity is maybe even more important than the change that their projects are enacting right now.” Ivana adds her “thank you to the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative for bringing out the best in these students and for equipping them to become future leaders in finding sustainable solutions to our world’s problems.”

The finalist teams from UWC East Africa in Tanzania, UWC Pearson College in Canada and UWC Atlantic College in the United Kingdom are now preparing to present their projects to the final jury at the inaugural Aurora Forum on 18 October at UWC Dilijan in Armenia. The winning team will be granted €4000 towards the further development of their project, while the two other finalist teams are awarded €500 each. Umra Omar, founder of Safari Doctors and member of the pre-selection panel who also participated in last year’s event notes:

"It is platforms like the Young Aurora initiative that ignite the budding lights for change. This is an investment in the generation that is learning, both from the damage that we have caused and the potential of the humanitarian spirit to overcome this damage. These three impressive projects have chosen to improve our world for future generations. I could not be more proud to call these young changemakers my fellow UWCers!"

The final three are:

UWC East Africa with Smokeless Kitchens

Propelled forward by the aim of reducing and eliminating the damaging effects of smoke experienced in the kitchens of indigenous communities of the Chagga and Maasai tribes in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, the Smokeless Kitchens team have set out a plan to sustainably source low cost, high quality smokeless stoves that are operated using environmentally friendly fuel. The impact potential of this project has been greatly praised by the panel for addressing the root causes of a critical humanitarian issue. Its effects will also entail both health and social benefits, as by reducing the instances of chronic respiratory diseases and the amount of time that women currently spend each day collecting firewood, the women will be able to dedicate a greater proportion of their time generating income for themselves. With the funding from the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, the Smokeless Kitchens team are hoping to be able to directly impact hundreds of families and sensitize even more to the dangers of smoke.

UWC Pearson College with Precious Plastic

Inspired by a Marine Science class in which the team took part in a beach clean up, the Precious Plastic team came face to face with the critical need for proper recycling practices, while simultaneously feeling disheartened by the lack of action taking place in the community to tackle this issue. The result was a plan to build a small plastic recycling factory on campus. In the long term, the factory will be maintained by the students from the Precious Plastic CAS while the materials it produces will be sold to generate profit and further fund the project. Describing their passion for the project, the team explain “we could not live with the UWC mission of creating a more sustainable future while knowing that tons of plastic were habitually being thrown out at our College. Even if our project can not solve the wider issue of plastic waste, we truly believe it can bring Pearson a step closer towards our ultimate goal of a sustainable future and we would be so proud if Pearson could also set an example for other schools and colleges in this regard.”

UWC Atlantic College with Young Voices

The Young Voices team found that the lack of civic engagement among young people in Wales is giving rise to a host of societal issues, including deepening inequality, social exclusion and a culture of blame. As the team outlines, “at its core, our project embodies our belief that every young person should actively participate in our society in our capacity as citizens.” They set about designing a peer-led civic education program for 13 to 18-year-olds with the aim of passing on all that they learnt at UWC to help other young people become engaged and compassionate citizens of tomorrow, while also closing the gap they soon discovered between the civic awareness of teenagers from different socioeconomic backgrounds. As one team member, Allegra Nesbitt-Jerman from Canada, reflects, “This project has been an inspiring opportunity for me to take action and share the lessons I have learned about political responsibility with my peers.”