An enthusiastic group of students at the Khorog campus of the University of Central Asia (UCA) have formed an initiative to promote awareness of ecological issues and encourage participation in environmentally sustainable practices.

“We were driving to Ishkashim and passed by a landfill. It was horrible,” said Anisa Abibulloeva (Class of 2021), an economics major at UCA from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and the founder of UCA’s Green Community Club. “The garbage was piled so high; it was just sitting there. I knew that it was time to act.”

The UCA Green Community Club is a student initiative working towards raising awareness about ecological issues and building environmentally sustainable practices. Established in September 2018, this group of dedicated students has created a set of long and short-term objectives that positively impact their campus space and also reach beyond the UCA community. Amongst these goals are ambitions to increase student and community awareness on ecological issues, to promote environmentally friendly practices that aim to reduce waste and promote recycling, and finally, to establish a recycling machine in the town of Khorog, where the university campus is located.

UCA’s campus in Khorog is one of two campuses in Central Asia — the other is in Naryn in Kyrgyzstan, with a third to be established  in Kazakhstan. The mission of the University is to promote the social and economic development of Central Asia, particularly its mountain communities, by offering an internationally recognised standard of higher education, and enabling the people of the region to preserve their rich cultural heritage as assets for the future. The faculty and staff support student initiatives and encourage creative and innovative approaches to the issues the students witness and experience; the Green Community Club is one such example.

Within just a few months, the group has already instituted a plastic bag recycling programme on its campus, collects plastic bottles for recycling, and hosted a number of events on campus during which they have invited members of the Khorog community to learn about ecological issues, waste management, and recycling. In the coming months, they will begin leading sessions that promote care for the environment in Aga Khan Education Service (AKES) Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in Khorog and will also be working alongside the Aga Khan ECD Resource Centre staff to publish a children’s book in Tajik, Russian, and English that explores themes related to environmental sustainability.

“We want to promote the formation of good habits at early ages because this is a time when people form their understanding of the world,” described Nitasha Aslam (Class of 2023), the group’s event management lead.  

The group emphasises the importance of sustainability, which is reflected in their project planning. Their projects and initiatives focus on long-term impacts, in particular behaviour change. This is further highlighted in the group’s careful and judicious choice to identify issues as ecological, rather than solely environmental.

“For us, the word ‘ecological’ is important because it emphasises that these issues involve many different systems,” explained Anisa, with the support of her team. “It is not just about physical things in the environment; it is also about the ways in which our communities are organised, our values, and the ways in which we act on those ideas.”

Their path thus far has not been entirely smooth. In implementing a recycling programme on campus, they quickly learned the importance of including every member of campus in their initiative, not only students and faculty. Furthermore, they have learned the critical role that education plays in inspiring others to act in environmentally responsible ways. These students and their initiatives exemplify the ethos of the University of Central Asia, applying their learning for the betterment of the societies within which they live. Over the course of the next semester, students at the UCA campus in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan will also establish their chapter of the Green Community Club.

“We want to inspire people no matter their age or where they are from,” added Anisa. “We all have a part in this.”