Resisting silence: A deaf student speaks out for healthy environments
Youth transcend barriers and voice their hopes for a pollution-free future during a UNICEF innovation challenge in Banda Aceh
When she was only 15, Agis had to leave her scenic hometown of Takengon, Aceh, to continue her studies in the province’s capital city of Banda Aceh given the limited education facilities available for high school students who are deaf like her. Growing up surrounded by Aceh’s greatest lake and mountains in Takengon, Agis was often disheartened to see the piling up of garbage and evidence of pollution on her way back home from Banda Aceh for school holidays. Agis developed a profound interest in the environment and now dreams of attending university and becoming a natural sciences teacher in the hope of educating students to take better care of the environment in the future.
In October 2022, Agis represented her school at the UNICEF-supported Youth for Health Open Innovation Challenge in Banda Aceh. The one-day event gathered over 200 adolescents aged 10 to 19 to share their solutions for tackling health issues facing adolescents, including tobacco use, mental health, climate change and air pollution.
These topics were selected by UNICEF given the growing burden of non-communicable diseases among young Indonesians. Smoking is a major risk factor, with over half of Indonesian adolescent boys aged 15 to 19 years reporting daily use of tobacco. Meanwhile, a 2021 UNICEF survey found that 29 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds in Indonesia reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things. Air pollution is among the top three health risk factors for death among children under age five.
With a shared concern for the environment, Agis easily bonded with her teammates. For easier communication, she taught them basic sign language with the help of an interpreter, and together they learned more about climate change and air pollution from their facilitators. But mostly, they were left on their own to dig deep into the climate and pollution issues facing them and to develop solutions to address them.
Agis and her team poured their hopes onto a dream board, which detailed a campaign for affordable renewable energy sources for cars, including through solar energy. They took turns with other teams to present their dream boards to one another.
It was Agis’ first time presenting her ideas in front of a large crowd. Despite being deaf, she had never felt more heard. Throughout the day, she was able to explore issues of interest beyond the limitations facing deaf students, especially considering the limited access to internet at her school. Agis also learned about the small steps she could take herself to protect the environment by listening to other teams’ solutions, ranging from a segregated waste system at schools to youth-friendly education on environmental issues through popular comics.
These hopeful voices (read more here) are just a glimpse of the vision young people in Indonesia have for a healthy future that will allow them to live up to their best potential.
UNICEF would like to acknowledge the contribution and support of partners including the Indonesian Ministry of Health, Dinas Kesehatan Aceh, Dinas Pendidikan Aceh, Perkumpulan Keluarga Berencana Indonesia (PKBI) Aceh, Aceh Youth Action/Youth ID, Ate Fulawan, and Mitra Muda.