On April 24, 2021, the weekend after Earth Day on April 22, The Grey Water Project celebrated Earth Day with guests and speakers from around the globe. I am thankful that I was able to assist at this event as both —a speaker and a guest— and I'm further gratified by being able to listen to so many people within a wide range of ages and nationalities who were all united by a common understanding: we are in a climate crisis, and we need to do more - more people should do more.
Shreya Ramachandran is the founder of The Grey Water Project, and host of this event for the second consecutive year. The preparation for this event has been ongoing from Shreya for months, and it was eagerly anticipated by the speakers, the art competition participants, and, of course, the over 100 registered guests
The first speaker was Lily Mei, the Mayor of Fremont, California, who has been a staunch environmental advocate in the Bay Area. She expressed her gratitude towards everyone taking the time to be present at the event as well as Shreya's resilience and commitment to sustainability in Fremont and beyond over the years. She also spoke on the importance of continuing to take action for environmental problems and work towards climate justice.
Next, we heard from National Geographic Young Explorer Markus Martinez Burman, a Mexican and Swedish environmental scientist and photographer. He taught us all that each photo has a story to tell behind it. Behind each millisecond-long click and a flash, there's a whole story to tell, and a whole community to get to know.
"Photographs immortalize moments” he said, “moments we wish upon ourselves to be kept intact without damage”. Because of this, as Markus narrates, there is an open chance to engage with the person and the wonder in front of the lens; we find ourselves in the tender opportunity to engage in an exchange of stories, photographs, and a better understanding of cultures and heritages. Through his speech and visuals, Markus shared with us a variety of narratives and showed us how they were all interrelated in unexpected ways. We are therefore able to make connections to what goes on in our society, the story of one birthday party with intergenerational relatives, and what goes through the minds of the keepers of a rainforest in Honduras. Currently, Markus is doing a project with participatory photography which promotes visual storytelling and illuminates participants’ current perceptions of their social-ecological systems and how it relates to nature and their environment.
Next, we jumped into an interactive workshop with Adha Mengis, program manager of online communities and educator, who guided us through the process of Design Thinking. The participants allowed themselves to be vulnerable for a moment and introduced themselves, sharing their goals, weaknesses and strengths. Through an outpouring of messages of chat, we learned a bit more about where we felt most happy, what we hoped for our futures and more. This is the first step in the design thinking process.
“Through Design Thinking, we empathize, ideate, build, test, iterate, and last but not least, share,” Adha Mengis said. He continued, "I think that Design Thinking is an interesting way to form new ideas... It is a six-step process to generate new solutions by listening to people who are most impacted by the problem, and to keep improving and refining an idea over time, so that you're able to share the successes and lessons learned". During Adha's workshop all of the attendees were encouraged to empathize with each other, to interpret others ideas, and to formulate ones of our own. Near the end of the session, we were given a prompt to come up with a unique and indestructible way to get to school. Post-its were the catalysts of the practice of this idea, and the solutions that rolled in ranged from practical to fantastical. Some of the ideas on the latter end of the spectrum included "Roller Skates made of steel"and a "Hovercraft skateboard like in the Back to the Future Movie!"
Switching gears to our left-brains, we then heard from Phil Stob, an art-inclined product developer who is also a bee and tree enthusiast who shared and thoroughly explained the mechanics of a residential 'Laundry to Landscape' grey water system. The Grey Water Project has focused on promoting the safe reuse of grey water and water conservation, and one of the best methods to make of this happen is by installing a grey water system at home. In his presentation, Phil answered the question "Why Bother with Grey Water?": it implements many of the things that we should be doing to prevent more droughts and practice a more eco-friendly day-to-day living. One of the benefits that this gives is the saving of up to 40,000 gallons per year. Not only is this beneficial for the overall saving of water, but also the compact conservation and growth of more green life, through the watering of trees and more plants.
Change is in anyone's hand. No matter your age, you can do incredible things for our planet. The Young Scientists Panel was an incredible way of demonstrating what a drop of willingness can accomplish. The Young Scientist Panel consisted of Neil Deshmukh, who developed Plantum AI, which “uses artificial intelligence and low-cost diagnostics to optimize farmers in low resource areas''; Melanie Quan, who has been researching a type of micro plastic called nurdles to better understand the distribution of nurdles and the frequency of their spills in our environment; Angelin Matthew, who talked about her 4-year ongoing research in which her ultimate goal was to "engineer an artificial pancreas, and have that as a possible cure for type 1 Diabetes [by finding a material and characteristics that would resemble pancreas like the bacteria in Kombucha] and finding sustainable biomedical innovations''; and last but not least Mahathi Mangipudi, whose research encompasses the "understanding the erosional mechanisms in the Himalayas and the enhancement of geo-thermal energy yields''. Neil, Melanie, Angelin, and Mahathi voiced out the importance of pursuing our interests, especially when there's a chance of having those tiny sparks of curiosity turn into a magnificent view of advances and innovation.
It was also extremely exciting to hear from Marion Chuquiyure from Water.Org who shared with us some of the work that Water.Org does, and some personal experiences while being part of the organization. One of the questions that Marion asked us was "Do you know what percentage of the world's population doesn't have a water connection and decent sanitation in their houses?" It was still eye-opening to realize that there is such a lack of basic resources all around the world and people suffer because of the consequences of a world-wide deterioration of the environment and the waste of our planet’s resources. Water.Org offers a solution through different micro-finance institutions. People can improve their quality of life by “applying for a water sanitation loan, which makes it possible for low-income people to build a bathroom in their homes, have a shower, a toilet, a sink, and also connect to a drinking water network", Marion said.
One of the most wonderful things in this event was the extensiveness of representation throughout the whole event. As well as being delighted by incredibly inspiring speakers who have done so much for the environment, and continue to do so, there was also a space for people to share a few minutes of their experiences through Open Mic Presentations. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from Desertification in Kazakhstan, the connection between the homelessness and climate crises, and the importance of marine conservation. The presenters were also of all ages from adults to young children - the youngest being just six years old.
A list of the open mic speakers is found below.
Amaira and Anaira
Zeiingabyl Sanim and Yesmagambetova Dilnaz
Camila Marie Lamy Arguelles
The event concluded with what it started with - a showcase of the artwork submitted for The Grey Water Project’s art competition. It was truly amazing to look at the different works of art that everyone had submitted. It was even more wonderful to see that no matter your age, there is a sea of ways to express your creativeness, your feelings, and what you see of the world. It is wonderful to see what amazing things can be achieved with determination, empathy, consciousness, and passion. Please visit https://www.thegreywaterproject.org/earth-day-gallery-2021 to see the winners and all the entries.