GYLI High School Students Raise Awareness of Global Water Issues

As an intern serving the Global Classroom program of the World Affairs Council, I spend a lot of time communicating online with local high school students.

Behind the veil of an official e-mail address and the organization’s Facebook page, I work to organize, encourage, inspire and generally support alums of our annual week-long international relations workshop, the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI), as they raise awareness of globally relevant topics amongst their peers.

So it was with great excitement that I recently spent a morning at Mercer Island High School, where I was finally able to witness GYLI students in action. If that morning was any indication, I need to get out of the office more often.

Four alums of our most recent GYLI session (Summer 2011) were kicking off a school-wide campaign to raise awareness of (and funds towards resolving) global water scarcity dilemmas.   They created a video broadcast on the school network, published announcements in the daily bulletin, and followed up on their messaging by organizing two 30-minute presentations on water scarcity in Kenya, featuring a speaker from Women’s Enterprises International (WEI), which supports clean water initiatives in 40 rural Kenyan communities.

Over 115 students attended the presentation, which included a video, thought-provoking comparisons between water access in Seattle versus in Kenya, and interactive elements like the water cans with forehead straps that most rural Kenyans use to transport drinkable water to their homes.

This brief but focused exploration of water issues seemed to have made an impression, as many attendees contributed to a donation jar on their way out of the presentation.

The GYLI students plan to continue the momentum of their campaign by holding additional fundraising activities in the coming weeks.  Their goal is to raise at least $1200 to fund the installation of a water tank by WEI in Kenya, which will negate the need for rural Kenyans, especially young women, to travel miles each day just to obtain drinkable water.

Personally, meeting the GYLI students face-to-face was a great way to take the abstract and formal aspects of my internship and see them at work in the real world.  But on a broader level that everyone can appreciate, my visit was a reminder of how everyone, regardless of age, is empowered to take meaningful action on pressing global issues.

In the field of international affairs, we often find ourselves in a world of abstractions and ideas.  It’s refreshing to see members of the next generation make these crucial issues understandable, and then show us how to take real, concrete steps toward improving the world.

After all this time focusing on inspiring local high school students, I now see that they are pretty inspirational too.

By Daniel Adler, World Affairs Council Global Classroom intern.