Amira Odeh; Graduate Student; Universidad Austral de Chile

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Amira is a Graduate Student at the Universidad Austral de Chile, where she is studying water resources, in particular as it pertains to future availability of water in Puerto Rico. Amira is a Certified EcoLeader; the project for which she received certification was called No Mas Botellas, and it focused on reducing plastic bottle sales by increasing drinking fountains and reusable bottle usage on campus.

Amira Odeh
Graduate Student
Universidad Austral de Chile

The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. NWF EcoLeaders staff has interviewed this group of change-makers and rising stars that we call “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

David Corsar: So, to start out, can you tell me a little bit about your project No Mas Botellas? What inspired you to work on this project and how did it go?
Amira Odeh:
My project started in 2010 at the University of Puerto Rico. When I was a student, I was a leader of an environmental organization on campus, and we were approached by a professor who wanted us to do research on the amount of plastic that was being used at the university. Through that research, I realized how much plastic we were using and how little people knew about the issues related to plastic consumption, so we started an education campaign. It took us a lot of extra research and education efforts, but in the end, we succeeded in banning bottled water sales on campus and getting the university to install new drinking fountains. In 2014, I graduated, and the rest of the group is still there continuing the education efforts. They are keeping the campaign alive because education is still needed on that issue.

DC: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation in the EcoLeaders program help you with your project and/or your leadership development?
I was able to see from the EcoLeaders program how many people out there were doing sustainability projects everywhere. It was really helpful to just see that I’m not by myself; there’s a whole lot of people who care about this. It helped me realize that these aren’t really isolated projects; it’s one big movement working for the betterment of our planet and our future. It helped me realize that in the future, in any occasion or in any project that I’m doing, I can always reach out to other people in the movement, and they probably have great contacts or experiences or advice, and we can help each other.

DC: What was the top skill that you learned in your professional development through this project?
AO: I think the most important skill, in general, is how to help volunteers – how to help them get trained and feel confident in using their talents for the benefit of the project, so they can feel like they’re an important part. Volunteer management and training and motivation are the key things that I learned regarding the success of a project, because while project planning is really important, without dedicated and happy people helping implement, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.

DC: What are you up to these days? Where are you studying and/or working?
Right now, I’m doing my master’s degree in Chile on water resources. I’m studying the availability of water in Puerto Rico for the future. Since I worked on my project on bottled water and learned about all these connected issues related to water, I’m studying water and how climate change is going to affect it.

In the future, I want to stay involved in NGOs in organizing and grassroots efforts, so I’m hoping to use this degree to bring science to the public and help people know and understand the importance of water and environmental issues.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission or philosophy for sustainability?
It would be to take action now. If I care about an issue, I need to work on it now and not wait until the future when the problem gets worse. This applies to environmental issues and any issue that I care about; I want to take urgent action.

DC: What motivated you to begin on this path?
Since my first memories, it’s something that I’ve always cared about. I lived in a house that has a view of trees and birds and stuff. My family would take me out to the beach and the forest, and I think it’s something that I always cared about. I experienced hurricanes and droughts – being here in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, that’s something that’s always stayed in my head. And I can’t help thinking, “this is going to get worse; this is bad.” I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t care about the environment.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
I don’t have specific people, but I love to read stories about small community leaders who have achieved big things like closing down coal plants or people in the Pacific islands who have been the public images of climate change talking about sea level rise in their countries. I am always really inspired by community movements, with few resources and few people that have achieved a lot of things.

DC: If asked to describe the EcoLeader certification that you received, what would you highlight to capture its value to you?
AO: I would say that it shows commitment. It lets the world see that you’re not just some kid who wants to just hug trees (laughs) – sometimes people out in the real world don’t take environmentalists seriously. I would describe the certification as a confirmation by a group of people who are supporting you and can certify that you’ve sought to make a real difference in the world and in your community.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability?
I would recommend for them to join a local group or to start their own group. People have great ideas on changes they want to see in their community, and they may have big plans on how they can make things happen. But then they think about these huge goals, and they are scared to take action because they don’t realize that things are step-by-step and just taking some small steps can bring them closer to making their ideas reality. So I would recommend for them to join a group or start their own so that they can start taking these small steps that can make these big ideas into reality.

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Date Added: May 18, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 19, 2017