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Environmental Footprinting in Mauritius

As a Cambridge University exchange student with only one year at MIT, Christopher Cleaver was determined to find a way to make the most of his January Independent Activities Period in 2007.

His opportunity came in the form of an MIT Public Service Center Expedition Grant and Sanjay Bissessur, a Humphrey Fellow from Mauritius, an island located off the coast of Madagascar. After Sanjay described to Chris the environmental problems faced by the developing country of Mauritius, Chris was inspired to develop an environmental education program for high school students on Mauritius.

Chris' project, called the School Footprinting Initiative, is a three-year program that challenges students to measure and reduce their ecological footprint, a measure of their human demand on nature. "Doing a community service project gave me a much broader and colorful insight into Mauritian culture than if I had traveled to the country as a tourist," Chris said. "It was possible to meet people from many walks of life, age, background, and position in society."

Getting the project off the ground was no small task, especially as the major theme of the project had to be changed at the last minute. "In Mauritius, I discovered that my original idea – setting up a competition for ideas to improve environmental sustainability of the school – had been tried before in a project led by Shell," Chris said. "I swiftly changed the theme of the program to ecological footprinting!"

Working in conjunction with the University of Technology Mauritius, the Mauritius Institute of Education, and the Mauritius Research Council, Chris conducted a two-week long pilot project with a ninth grade class at the Hindu Girls School in Mauritius. "The key outcomes for students involved in the project were self-empowerment through experiential and group problem-based learning and raised awareness of what factors affect their personal environmental impact and how to measure this," Chris said.

The School Footprinting Initiative is slated to be launched in eight schools this year with plans to extend it to up to 32 schools in the next two years.

Read more about students and their public service projects...