Three young environmentalists are helping put Yellowknife on the map of water awareness and innovation.

St. Patrick High School students Ann Huynh, Sofia Laganas and Isha Jha won recognition for their contributions to the Global Water Challenge (GWC) event during the March Break.

The GWC was offered through the Learning Partnership and Invent Future Global (IFG) organizations that bring together students from around the globe to hone skills to solve problems facing the world.

St. Patrick’s students Ann Huynh, left, Isha Jha and Sofia Laganas recount their experiences with the Global Water Challenge, in which each were part of international teams that worked on solving water problems. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Teams held sessions over Zoom, where they discussed their projects. Between sessions, they communicated using the Discord and Padlet chat apps.

Sewage filtration

Huynh’s group won a Global Collaboration Award from IFG for their project on designing a device that filters clean water from sewage. Her five-member team hailed from China, Bangladesh and India.

“We had three designs. One was a water filter, like a water bottle with a cap, like on a sewage pipe that acts as a net (to purify water),” Huynh explained. “(The experience) was more of a different way to learn, not like learning in a classroom because you’re talking with other students online in other countries. You’re connecting in a different way.”

Plasma radiation filtration

Laganas’s team – of which she was the manager – won a Global Innovation Award for its work on inventing a way of purifying water through a multi-step process. Her teammates were from Bangladesh, Sweden, Canada and Indonesia.

“One of my team members found a research paper about a plasma radiation filtration system,” Laganas said. “It’s a complicated system. Our goal was to reuse sewage water and water from lakes. We made two systems: one for factories and one for houses. We didn’t expect to win an award but we thought it was really cool.”

Water efficiency

Jha’s group worked on a water efficiency project aimed at maximizing water for countries’ domestic use instead of for profit-making purposes.

“I had some teammates in Mexico, where only 15 per cent of water was going to domestic purposes while the rest was going to agriculture because it’s a money-making industry,” Jha said.

“Our solution was to implement a treaty. We based our idea off the Paris Climate Accord. Using milestones, we developed a way where everyone would get the right amount of water. We found if you take water away from the agricultural businesses, you’re saving more money and you can plant more crops. It’s good for the environment because it can prevent runoff. We called it the global water umbrella.”

Though her team didn’t win an award, she enjoyed participating and saw that the accolades won by her classmates’ teams were well-deserved.

“It was really interesting to learn about other peoples’ perspectives on water issues. In other countries, they have different priorities on water issues,” Jha said.

Early signs of passion for environment

When the GWC program was announced a few months ago, Trent Hamm, a technology innovation specialist with Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS), thought of the three St. Patrick’s students.

He worked with them when they were in Grade 7 in YCS’s techsperts program.

“I put this out to 60 students to join the GWC event and (the) three got back to me. In Grade 7, they fundraised $1,300 with a group of students called Ocean Girls, though there were boys in the group. They were trying to get rid of microplastics in the ocean. They have a pattern of really caring for the environment to really change it – and (they’re) willing to put action behind their words. And they still have the passion for water.”

Ocean Girls went on to be a finalist for an Arctic Inspiration Prize in 2019.

Hamm initially introduced the girls to the GWC and encouraged them to focus on the North for their projects.

Global collaboration on water solutions

The international teams were formed in January and paired with adult mentors. The common issue for all teams was water, and each one was given their own specific problem to solve.

They discussed their projects virtually in regularly scheduled sessions that lasted about an hour. The teams collaborated to build slide decks of their projects. Sessions were conducted in English, and the three girls said their overseas teammates were all fluent.

The three St. Patrick’s students met virtually with their teams at noon GMT, which is 6 a.m. Mountain Time – or was 5 a.m. until clocks were set ahead on March 14 for daylight savings time.

“Some kids woke up even earlier than us, like at 2 a.m!” Hamm recalled.

Over the March Break, the youths held their final preparation sessions and then presented their projects to each other on March 20.

“Going forward, these girls have paved the way for next year,” Hamm said. “I’m hoping they’ve inspired other students in high school to take up the challenge and make the world a better place.”

Huynh and Laganas will present their projects to a wider audience on April 17 at the Global Innovation Field Trip leadership event organized by IFG.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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