Stillwater student takes ‘eye-opening’ trip

SAHS sophomore among 30 U.S. students that traveled to Bangladesh

By HANNAH JOHNSON – Stillwater Gazette

Sam Schirvar didn’t think much of it when his Human Geography teacher suggested he apply for an all-expense paid trip to Bangladesh.

But after a while, Schirvar figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least try. So he did. Out of 300 students across the United States, Schirvar was chosen as one of 30 students to participate in the American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP).

Schirvar, along with 29 other students from across the nation and five educators, traveled to Bangladesh for a month in December. The group was meant to study climate change and use their experience to foster change in their own communities.

The AYLP is an initiative sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and global education nonprofit World Savvy. World Savvy, a non-profit organization that educates and engages youth in community and global affairs administers the program.

"It felt like a dream really because not everyone gets this opportunity to go across the world for a month for completely free," Schirvar said. "So I didn’t even believe it was happening until I got off the plane in Bangladesh."

Bangladesh is located in southern Asia, bordered by India and Burma. The country is recognized as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. It deals with floods, tropical cyclones, tornadoes and tidal bores almost every year, which also cause deforestation, soil degradation and erosion.

The trip gave Schirvar and his group a first-hand look at how climate change impacts the country.

"The idea behind World Savvy is basically building the youth leaders of tomorrow," Schirvar said. "They’re really interested in getting kids ‘world savvy,’ so they want kids interested in what’s going on outside of their town, city and U.S. borders."

The group spent two weeks in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The students attended one of the local English-speaking schools and learned about life in the city from local students. They also visited communities who lost farmland because of climate change and spent five days on a boat in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. Schirvar compared the boat to the Andiamo, located on the St. Croix River downtown Stillwater. The Sundarbans showed Schirvar the greatest impact of climate change.

"Seeing the Sundarbans wetlands and the Bengal tiger and things continually being cut down, which leaves the city even more vulnerable to cyclones," Schirvar said. "It was very eye-opening."

Taking action

Though the trip was only for a month, the program didn’t end once Schirvar returned home. A Stillwater resident and sophomore at Stillwater Area High School, Schirvar is now taking what he learned from his trip and implementing his own social action project at school.

"The program really wasn’t just for the month, it’s considered nine months," Schirvar said. "When we get back we take this inspiration and information and put it into action in our daily lives."

Schirvar’s project is installing a hydration station at the high school. The hydration station is used to fill up people’s reusable water bottles as opposed to buying plastic water bottles throughout the day. The station fills up four-times faster than a drinking fountain and is more efficient in its water use, Schirvar said.

Schirvar is part of the "Green Team" at SAHS, which focuses on environmental issues. They have been hosting fundraiser to help get the money for the hydration station, which costs from $700 to $1,200. Earlier this week the group received a $1,000 grant for the project.

The next steps are meeting with the SAHS principal and getting permission from the school district, Schirvar said.

"If all of it worked out we could see this hydration station up by the end of the year," Schirvar said. "So overall it’s very satisfactory."

Schirvar cannot participate in the program in the future since the goal is to get as many new students involved as possible. Still, Schirvar said he is going to focus on building up the "Green Team" at the high school and continue to focus on global issues.

Schirvar said, "Many of us were already globally motivated kids, but that just pushed us off the ledge in realizing what’s going on in the world and how much we as youth have a huge part in it and making things better."