Teaching conservation to the youth of Pakistan can be considered a blessing as well as a challenge. In the era of smartphones and tablets, the struggle to gain attention for a cause is never ending. In this specific environment, a practical approach is required, we aim to be able to make them observe, understand and sometimes explain and engage them in a constructive dialogue in an impromptu manner.

Keeping in mind the lack of opportunities for young people to get actively involved in environmental conservation and community service initiatives, WWF-Pakistan decided to introduce an innovative Eco-Internship Programme in educational institutions across the country. This five session project-based internship has a strong emphasis on community service where students are encouraged to engage with local communities and come up with sustainable solutions to environmental issues. Sessions are developed to be engaging and interactive for students. Topics such as species conservation, water conservation, solid waste management, documentary making, environmental law, corporate sustainability, green businesses and eco-design are explored through presentations, documentaries, team building exercises, group work, and role play.

Through this programme the team had the opportunity to interact with a wide spectrum of educational institutions operating in the country, from private to government ones and those being run for less privileged children. The five sessions of our programme were a journey of changing perception, ideologies and, most importantly, actions of youth. Although the message of conservation has been influential, we were helped along the way through cooperative learning methods.

Activities mentioned above, such as eco-design involved students using discarded material and waste products found in their homes into recycled items and new innovative products. Students along the years have been most passionate and innovative in this exercise. Many interns had started expressing their enthusiasm for recycling and sustainability through artworks where they merged conventional measures with modern day themes, creating attractive art installations. This task gave purpose to students in expressing their emotions and ideas through a wide range of recyclables such as glass, cans, plastics, old CDs, PET bottles, etc. Not all students are as creative or artistic as others, so many find this activity challenging. To represent your 3-dimensional thoughts about recycling with old objects gets hard and many run back to their gadgets for answers. So clearly, if you are not innovative, you are an interpreter by default and if an interpreter stands in front of a task that is not part of their domain he/she doesn’t give up or look for an easy way out. Rather, the sessions are about the conceptual importance of recycled arts and about starting a discussion. Making that first step and inviting group members to help.

In past years students used second-hand or reused possessions to make eye catching models of contemporary art, and literally turned everyday junk into resourceful treasures. Some created compositions from recycled plastic bags and even furniture from recycled supplies. I have personally witnessed interns finding modern ways to show their distress towards the state of the environment and thus, encouraging the masses to reuse, reduce and recycle for a better future. With plastic, solid waste management and pollution posing a serious environmental challenge in Pakistan, it is expected that such initiatives will also spur future generations to take tangible actions to improve the situation.

This session-based internship has a strong emphasis on community service where students are encouraged to engage with local communities and come up with sustainable solutions to environmental issues. WWF-Pakistan’s partnerships and initiatives with local communities at the grassroots level are part of the conservation success of the organization, which is further supported through the completion of community service hours by interns under the programme. Students present their community service hours work in the form of documentaries, which again reflects their artistic genes and how they use film making to create awareness. Students from universities and colleges present amazing footage of actual environmental and conservation issues faced by Pakistan, whether it is a social documentary based on the lives of garbage pickers or water scarcity challenges in the suburbs of Lahore. The activity gives interns a sense of ownership about local conservation problems we face every day. Having control over their documentaries helps them figure out where changes can be made regarding environmental issues in today’s society without having someone else moralize it to them. Documentary making gives students autonomy to shoot footage and explore environmental challenges our community faces.

We are not always aware of our impact on the planet, let alone our country, state or community but as I always tell my interns as human beings we are the only species that can save this planet. I believe it is vital to continue informing the public about the significance of these current conservation issues through any mode of awareness. These efforts have shown results over the course of time. Zarmina Khan, an Eco-intern in 2016, joined WWF-Pakistan as a volunteer and student ambassador for two years after completing her internship and this year joined the organization as an employee, working for conservation!

Art, may it be conceptual or contemporary, can be used to portray these major environmental concerns. We have combined both the two-dimensional and three dimensional aspects of art to engage students in recreational yet impactful activities. By creating an inspired foundation with the young minds of today, then moving to their own stories, we can help people create innovative solutions for not just ourselves but generations to come.

Imran Rabbani is Senior Officer Youth Development, WWF-Pakistan.