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Surval Sustainability and Model UN Club trip to the SDG Workshop in Geneva

Posted on: 19th April 2018 | Category: Boarding life, Commitment to communities, Special events, Swiss adventures

Living in a setting like Surval, enjoying the lifestyle that such a setting gifts us, it is understandable that some of our students have been seized by a passion for sustainability – the need to look after and protect our beautiful planet so that our girls’ daughters, and their daughters’ daughters, can cherish and enjoy its treasures as we do.

So where does this sustainable action begin for us? With serendipitous timing, the day after Surval’s new Sustainability Club’s first meeting! On Saturday, the students from the club, and two girls from the Model United Nations Club, chose to spend a glorious sunny Saturday indoors at a workshop on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, at the International School of Geneva’s STEM centre.

Here, experts on sustainability spoke to us about the need to equip ourselves with a “sense of why these goals matter in our lives”, emphasising that they are not a question of luxury, but a question of survival: “A universal call to action to end poverty, protect our planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.”

One of the speakers, Kevin I. Koh, a former human rights lawyer with the UN, and now a specialist in sustainable development, observed how pleased he was with the female to male ratio in the room, which was the reverse of what he usually encounters: “It’s beautiful to see this inclusion of gender – usually at these workshops, it’s 90% boys.” This led Koh onto a particularly powerful example of how poverty can affect young women: “Imagine girls going through their natural biological rhythm every month and not having access to a proper toilet, or the money to buy necessary toiletries.”

In addition to Koh’s striking speech, the students were then shown how to structure effective problem solving, firstly mapping problems and needs; then designing a successful solution: “It is essential that you define the problem, identify the community facing the problem, and imagine how they are living. Only by using this process can you create a solution that addresses real needs.” One of the advantages of a good SDG solution, we were told, was that it would have as its “natural side effect” a positive impact on other SD goals.

Thus inspired and informed, our girls were ready to find some solutions of their own! Given an option of several SDGs to choose from, one group opted to work on a “Sustainable Cities” issue, and the other on an aspect of “Gender Equality”.

In the Gender Equality group, Lucía, Abril and Emilia worked with some other students on how to address the problem of gender inequality in schools, arguing that “people too often accept gender inequality; it should not be a taboo to address it.” This group aimed to encourage both boys and girls to question gender stereotypes and speak out against them. The group’s solution worked towards promoting gender inclusiveness for LBGTQIA, ensuring wage equality among staff and instilling gender-equality counsellors within schools for pupils, staff and parents. (See photo of the GE group’s poster for more of their excellent ideas.)

The Sustainable Cities group, Lusiya, Liza S, Nastya, Jane and Liza F, all of whom are from Russia, shared problems that they have encountered in their home cities, such as the impact of few daylight hours in the Winter on emotional wellbeing, the concern about pollution that quickly turns white snow to black slush, and, finally, the need to be able to cross a highly populated city safely and quickly. This final point became our central problem but, once the girls found a solution for this, they were able to adapt it to start tackling the first two issues. And their solution? “Flower Bus!” The Flower Bus is an electric bus, made of locally sourced materials, driven by women for teenage female passengers, and decorated with colourful flower designs “that will brighten those dark winter days”. A scannable bus pass and linked Flower Bus app ensures that parents can check in and see where their daughters are on the bus route, and the ID and registration of the bus. (See photo of the SC group’s poster to find out more about the fabulous Flower Bus!)

However, no sooner were the groups caught up in the excitement and buzz of fine-tuning their newfound solutions than they were thrown into the high-pressure challenge of presenting their whole process to the entire workshop. It was a race against the clock to be ready for the deadline, with no time for even one full read through or rehearsal!

We were impressed, therefore, with how well all the groups performed, though we were naturally particularly proud of our girls – not least as most of them were among the youngest students there. When given her turn with the microphone, each girl spoke with clear and impassioned intonation, making eye contact with the audience, and thus ensuring that their problem and the process of finding a solution was clearly communicated. The students’ efforts were further rewarded as we saw how, through their solution, they met the needs of other SDGs.

It can be overwhelming to think of how much we need to do to achieve these seventeen essential goals. It is uplifting, therefore, to see our Surval students not simply caring, but taking tangible steps towards making their future, and our planet’s future, a sustainable one.

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