This is an incredible story of Maha -- a youth social activist from Pakistan who, in her very young age, has achieved remarkable success by transforming her community's practices towards sustainability and collective thinking!
Many would underestimate her abilities while looking her young age. However she proved to be a true youth leader by launching a self-sustained waste management initiative among local residents, where she also lives! Belonging to a nature-loving family, she is now a role model for many of us in Mansehra Township -- one of the beautiful valleys in the KPK province of Northern Pakistan. I feel proud sharing the story of Maha in her own words as she talked to me about her marvelous initiative!
"The idea came to my mind some two years back, when I attended a ten-day event on 'Meaningful Social Action', organized by the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, (ISGP)", said Maha. It's a non-profit organization that works with individuals, groups and institutions to build their capacities in their efforts for a better society", she further added.
When Maha returned to her town after attending her training, her mind started exploring what good things she can do in her community. Her family has a healthy habit of regular evening walk on Township roads, where Maha and her younger sibling always noticed residents throwing off wastes in empty plots, outside their homes and sometime over roads. What are these residents doing? Why doesn't our township authority become active so no one throw off waste like this. These were the questions, Maha always thought about.
"Perhaps alone we can't do this, so let's talk to some like-minded friends about it," Maha said. "Together with my younger brother Adeel and other friends, we started door-to-door visits, educating families how to reduce and distribute the contents of waste and dump them in the proper place", she said but with a little disappointment after her one month efforts of mobilization which couldn't work.
She however didn't stop at all!
Maha and her brother, after a break for some thoughts, then tried a different approach to make the initial failure a success. This time, these young siblings selected ten houses and other ten young girls from the households and started a discussion how they can solve the issue of waste management.
A truly young minds brainstorming for a better society!!
And the decision from these young minds was -- a servant from one of the resident families would go door to door to collect waste and dump it off in a place allocated by the MDA -- a local authority. The next job was how to convince these ten families to pay this servant a nominal monthly payment!
"This practice went well for about one month. We identified a servant, and families also paid him, but not more than one month," said Maha.
Another failure, but put more enthusiasm in Maha! Throwing out waste outside homes was still a problem to fix.
Let's find a permanent sweeper for this job, Maha thought. Another two young fellows also decided to join Maha, her younger brother and a cousin, making a force of five! This time, they thought to first focus their efforts on just their own main road. This young group also decided why not to engage MDA as well, along with their effort to convince local residents on proper waste management.
Maha wrote an application letter to the MDA and shared her plan, while the youth group continued to convince families join the waste management initiative. To create more interest, Maha also introduced a simple form for interested families, mentioning the name and address of family head and monthly payment for the sweepers.
Surprisingly, families started showing much interest when they saw youth being so conscious about their environment!
Maha and her young team visited door to door, introducing the concept to families and encouraging them to join the initiative. Some 23 families initially decided to join Maha and her young team!
After getting support of local residents, Maha, along with her team of youth and some other local females, approached the Assistant Director of the MDA, sharing with him their plan of waste management. The MDA director was so astonished knowing the efforts of these youth and their passion to motivate local residents for a clean environment.
The happiest moment came when the director called upon the department's sweeper asking him to collect waste from identified households the very next day!
"We then re-visited every household, telling them about our successful meeting with local authorities and got families' consensus on timing of waste collection through the official sweeper," said the happy Maha.
Today, 48 households of the main road of the township have joined this initiative. The road is now clean, while Maha and her group are continuously educating families to keep kitchen and other waste separate and hand it over to the sweeper, rather than throwing it off carelessly.
"We aim to extend this initiative from our main road to the entire township", said Maha. "This is our pilot initiative and we are trying to engage maximum families in the area, along with MDA, to help them learn sustainable waste management, composting, recycling and other initiative like be natural and avoid packaged food for a sustainable environment," she further added!
Maha is a youth activist and currently maintaining her own page on Facebook.