During the winter break of her senior year at Earlham College, Vaishnavi Walade returned home to India to volunteer at a school district without reliable access to water.
Working with a local nonprofit, she facilitated workshops for elementary school students on water safety. Along with the workshops, they installed tanks, taps and water purifiers at each school. The project spanned a month at Zilla Parishad schools in Uran, a coastal town just south of Walade’s hometown of Mumbai.
“The workshops and water stations proved essential in ensuring that the school had access to safe water,” Walade said. “This experience, combined with my high school and college education, has helped me become a determined advocate for climate education, especially among children.”
Walade’s advocacy for education and climate change will continue this summer with support from the Projects for Peace program. She is the recipient of a $10,000 grant to develop and lead climate education workshops at eight elementary schools in the same district. The project is one of just 126 funded by Projects for Peace’s 2023 cohort. Hosted by Middlebury College, the global program encourages young adults to develop innovative, community-centered and scalable responses to the world’s most pressing issues.
“The addition of climate education to the academic curriculum is essential to peacekeeping,” Walade said of her project. “My entire project is based on the fact that schools in fiscally poor areas of Uran are noticeably underfunded and therefore do not have the capacity to incorporate climate issues or advocacy into their curriculum.
“I aspire to create an understanding of the underlying factors that are contributing to the environment we are raised and live in,” she said. “I want to teach young students how to prevent resource-related conflict through this knowledge and perspective.”
Walade is working with the Citizens Association for Child Rights and local volunteers to facilitate the project. Giordano Margaglio, a disaster preparedness program analyst for the United Nations Development Programme, is a mentor on the project.
“We will conduct workshops for the entire school population each day we visit a school,” Walade said. “Since we will be taking up most of the school day, we will provide food, beverages and sanitation kits for the students. For each workshop, the project team will be accompanied by school teachers to facilitate parts of the workshop.”
After graduating from Earlham with a degree in economics later this month, Walade will return to India to begin preparing for the two-week initiative in July. She will return to the United States in the fall to begin graduate school at Georgetown University.
“I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without the support of Ahmed Khanani, the director of Earlham’s Center for Social Justice, and Meredith Edwards, the associate director of grants and sponsored research” Walade said. “They knew about my passion for the environmental and educational challenges facing India and encouraged me to apply.
“The goal for the longer term is that the schools incorporate climate change education into their curriculum and that students become more aware of the threats that climate change poses, especially to Uran’s natural resources.”