Two 18-year-olds Aim to Fix the E-Waste Problem in Armenia

Even though they come from different countries, Cedric Solms from Germany, 18, and Mikhail Zamskoy from Russia, 18, both shared the same goal: to get the international education and experience necessary to be able to make the world a better place. That is what the United World College (UWC) movement empowers its alumni to do through education, which evolves both ability and talent. Every year there is a vivid selection process. Among hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of those applying, only a few of students receive acceptance letters in their mail boxes, and Cedric and Misha were among those lucky few. They say that their experience has been so transforming and inspiring that they have never had any regrets about spending two years in the world of UWC.

The IB Diploma is said to be a highly involving educational program which broadens students’ perspectives on how they perceive the world around them. In the IB Diploma, students usually take three subjects at Higher Level and three at Standard. Students have an opportunity to choose subjects from six different groups in order to best accommodate their interests, talents, and goals.

Pursuing the topic of goals, Cedric and Misha hope to continue their trip on their educational paths by deepening their knowledge about how societies work, and by learning more about leadership, challenges, and economic models. They have a strong belief that their UWC experience and university level education will enable them to work on socially important and beneficial projects. That is why both of them are studying Economics and Math at Higher Level to expand their knowledge on how the life of society is built in terms of economic and mathematical ideas. In addition to these subjects, Cedric decided to study Global Politics to learn how governments work in the 21st century, while Misha decided to learn from the past to avoid mistakes and implement successfully piloted models and decisions by studying History at the Higher Level. Cedric and Misha also study Physics, English Language & Literature, and German.

While UWC Dilijan itself offers the height of sophisticated technology and comfort, the town and surrounding country is still struggling to overcome the low years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. One issue the boys noticed was waste management. They had a choice between spending two years of UWC life in ignorance or taking on a challenge and trying to change the world around them. The chose to take the challenge and in only a few months had established a formal charitable foundation with a Board of Trustees counting a number of international figures: Veronika Zonabend (international philanthropist and entrepreneur, RVVZ Foundation), His Excellency Matthias Kiesler (German Ambassador in Armenia), Nadezhda Rodicheva (Inclusive Ventures), Maximilian Count of Solms-Laubach (Solms Consulting), Alexey Komov (RVVZ Foundation), David Yang (ABBYY and Ayb Schools) and Martin Galstyan (Central Bank of Armenia).

“I was inspired by the students’ idea,” Ambassador Kiesler told us. “When I first visited UWC Dilijan and met young people who want to do something about electronic waste, I agreed immediately to the offer of becoming a member of the Board of Trustees”.

The boys have challenged themselves to raise enough money to fund a publicity campaign and are punching well above their weight. They’ve had major successes so far, influencing politicians, establishing bridges of communication with schools, forming links with other organizations, and establishing electronic-waste, plastic, and aluminium storage and collection methods. They are also hoping to receive funding from UNDP and the GEF Small Grant Program, as well as from Inclusive Ventures, an impact investment group, to establish the first Armenian electronic waste, plastic, and aluminium dismantling and recycling facility.

We asked them how the Armenian authorities had reacted to the initiative. “First, they were surprised to hear such ambitious plans from 18-year-old foreign high school students,” Cedric says. “But then the whole Re-apaga team convinced them that we will succeed, and now Re-apaga is well supported by the government”.

The Municipality of Dilijan became a partner of the foundation and donated storage space for electronic waste, aluminium, and plastic in the city center. The Ministry of the Nature Protection also declared their support for the initiative, confirmed by First Deputy Minister Simon Papyan. Cedric and Misha say that it is just the beginning of their dialogue with the Armenian government as they hope to connect to many more governmental institutions, along with other organizations and individuals, and work together not just to develop the project, but to influence national policy as well.

“UWC Dilijan not only teaches you how to change the world, but also helps you to do so,” says Misha. “Here, we met mentors, advisors, and potential investors”. However, the boys also showed the ability to work independently and found many other supporters outside the school walls.

“This initiative can spread throughout Armenia. The charm of it is that the students found ways to realize their idea on their own,” says Veronika Zonabend. “This initiative was born from an idea, and I hope that it will grow into a big movement. The students received substantial help from the Dilijan Community Center, where the main topics and project goals were formed, and intend to involve a large number of young people in the initiative in the course of this year by visiting other schools and universities,” she adds.

Cedric and Misha say that this project is not just an extra-curriculum activity, nor is it just a plan for the gap year; it is a long term initiative which will connect them to Armenia throughout their lives. They hope to establish a facility which will become a real model of sustainability. The plan is to develop a system of waste collection, dismantling, and recycling all over the country and they believe it might take up to five years to finish the project.

“This initiative has all chances to spread throughout Armenia. This is a huge problem, relevant not only for Armenia, but the entire region and humankind as well,” says Zonabend. Ambassador Kiesler agrees, “It is unfortunate that environment protection is not a priority in Armenia. However, it inspires hope that such initiatives are created to raise awareness among people. I believe it is my duty to create ties and look for benefactors for this initiative. Germany also has a problem with e-waste, but communities there already have special centers where people can leave their electronics, - TV sets, old phones, etc.”

After graduating from UWC Dilijan, Cedric and Misha plan to spend a lot of time in Armenia working on Re-apaga, while enrolled at university. And after finishing the project, they hope to gain valuable experience from both working and studying and then enlarge their knowledge by pursuing education at one of the world’s leading business schools. Cedric and Misha are dreaming about INSEAD, Harvard, Yale, or Wharton. They believe that this combination of experience and knowledge will enable them to start new socially important initiatives all over the world. They believe that UWC Dilijan did not just connect them for two years of high school, but created a friendship for life, and the bond they share has the potential to change the world.

Katie Ruth Davies

03 April 2017 20:27