Social change starts with a flash of ingenuity, progresses with diligence, and, if done right, ends with life-changing insight and satisfaction. This fall, two student teams from Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas transformed their desire to fight drug abuse in Ethiopia into practical plans and landed in the finals of the World Vision Social Innovation Challenge.
One Faith Lutheran team, Team Destia, composed of sophomores Elyssa Bahr, Nikki Manukyan, McKenna Erwin and Mason DeVore, won the competition with a community garden proposal. The team will get $25,000 and will travel to Ethiopia to enact their plan.
Faith’s Basketball 4 the Better, composed of Gabby Cooke, Lauren Tomita, Saige Schweitzer and Max Heinz, made the finals by proposing building basketball courts in which youth basketball leagues could play and young people could congregate.
The annual pitch competition by World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization, rewards technological, social and environmental ideas to help communities in developing countries solve local social problems. Academic institutions joined social enterprises, businesses and nongovernmental organizations as contestants.
World Vision, a 70-year-old nonprofit agency with U.S. headquarters in Federal Way, Washington, partners with children, families and communities to tackle causes of poverty and injustice.
Faith students set about fighting teenage drug addiction in Kolfe Keranio, one 10 sub cities of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. In a video, World Vision explained that because young people could not land jobs, they chewed khat, an addictive drug that made them briefly euphoric but carried stiff economic and health aftereffects. Daytime khat chewing would give way to alcohol drinking, the video said.
Team Destia decided to replace damaging khat chewing with gardening, an activity the group argued can release serotonin, endorphins, dopamine and norepinephrine chemicals that buoy mood and improve outlook.
Their plan will use business, economic, planning and diplomatic skill to execute.
On its proposal page, the team said it will sell its produce (full plants) to market sellers, especially women, and will work non-disruptively within the community to let vendors earn profit.
The group said it will also connect with farmers, to better learn about Ethiopia’s agricultural labor and economy.
The group said it will buy seeds locally and sell them to the farmers with whom they had connected.
The garden, the group said, will fight youth unemployment, which is at 29.3%, and fit the local economic structure, which gets half its gross domestic product from agriculture, the team said. Besides supplying locally sourced plants and seeds, the team said it will supply durable, high-quality farming tools bought in the United States.
Young Ethiopians will get lessons and support so they can run the garden effectively and earn steady incomes.
“Our agriculturalist staff members must teach youth how to harvest properly, and older youth can pass that knowledge on to younger youth so the garden will no longer require an agriculturalist for more than two years,” the description said.
In the World Vision video, Bahr said the group aims to build its garden on a 1.5 acre plot, but has several backup ideas if that plan goes awry. The garden building plan will last four weeks, the description said — two weeks for building, advertising and hiring, and two weeks for two weeks to each staff and youth to run the garden.
Team Destia said its plan would devote $6,200 to garden employee salaries and projects $7,795 in crop sales, varying according to crop harvest. By this calculation, the venture would break even in first year and yield $1,595 in profit. Following this math, the group said it would be able to pay off $13,919.85 in seed money within 7.5 years.
‘We all have reasons for being here and all of them are personal to us,” Erwin said. “But we all have one common goal … that is to help others.”
In a post-competition interview, Bahr said she and her teammates grew close as they worked.
“With this project, we are bonded together for life. … We love each other and can’t wait to finally implement this idea that we worked so hard on,” Bahr said. “Not only will we be helping others through this project, but it will become a lasting impact for (hopefully) the rest of our l times and beyond.”
Erwin said she was briefly shocked, then instantly elated to learn of the team’s victory.
“At first, when (World Vision) announced it, I had a moment of complete disbelief quickly followed by relief and excitement,” she said. “Despite the effort we put in, we didn’t think we would win considering we were the youngest team and all three of the other teams were really good competition.
“But,” she added, “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take our idea and make it real.”
Faith Lutheran Principal R. Scott Fogo hailed the team’s diligence and devotion.
“Over the last seven months, they have spent hundreds of hours researching solutions for this problem, straining to understand the people and context in Ethiopia,” Fogo said. “Just think, these sophomores are world-changers. Moving forward in their lives, they are empowered to look at problems in the world and know they can be part of the solution.”
About Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School
Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School is Nevada’s largest private school and the largest Lutheran school in the United States, serving more than 1,900 students from the Las Vegas Valley and abroad.
The school, on a 50-acre state-of-the-art campus near Downtown Summerlin, offers advanced middle school and high school college preparatory curriculum and extensive athletic, fine arts, and after school activities in a distinctively Christian environment.
Faith Lutheran’s unique high school academies program includes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Justice & Advocacy, Business & Entrepreneurship, Film & Broadcast, Hospitality & Tourism, Christ Academy and the Conservatory of Fine Arts. The school is dedicated to its mission statement of Everyone Prepared! Everyone Saved! and is fueled by its core values of Family, Academics, Innovation, Truth and High Achievement.
Faith Lutheran is accredited by AdvancED and the National Lutheran Schools Accreditation. Learn more at www.faithlutheranlv.org.
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