They buildOn: Alum Starts Organization to Teach Yemen Community About Environment

buildOn alumnus Jowhara Zindani is a global ambassador dedicated to saving the environment. She spearheaded Save Yemen’s Flora & Fauna, an advocacy group that educates the Yemeni community in Dearborn and Hamtramck, Michigan about the importance of sustaining a green environment. They are also spreading awareness about qat, an addictive plant that is cultivated and chewed by the people in Yemen. SYFF mission focuses on Agricultural restoration, Water conservation, Anti-qat mobilization, Reforestation and Education (AWARE).

[pullquote]SYFF completes community service in Michigan…and has traveled to Yemen to plant trees during the rainy season.[/pullquote]

Jowhara started the initiative as a Facebook page while still an undergrad in 2008, using the social network to recruit students who were equally enthusiastic about saving the environment. Her focus was to reach out to the working class community where she was raised, to those without access to environmental information. She was also concerned about the dependence to qat in her community: People in Yemen traditionally use the plant as a stimulant, but, according to Jowhara, many don’t think it’s addictive. Qat is also a cash crop that takes up a lot of water and “Yemen is the first country threatened to dry out in five years,” Jowhara said.

SYFF recruits experts to give presentations about endangered plants and species, and additionally completes community service, such as clean-ups in Michigan’s gardens. They’ve also traveled to Yemen to plant trees during the rainy season, and have organized an Arbor Day there for the past three years. Now the group is collecting funds from donors for future projects in Yemen.

Jowhara said her passion for community service is tied to her experience with buildOn in Flint, Michigan. “[buildOn] taught me that I can do something and take it and expand it overseas,” Jowhara said.

SYFF is planning a Spring Clean Up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 14 at Hamtramck and Dearborn, which will be followed up with a Picnic Celebration. Visit the SYFF website for more information and to make a donation.

Current city: Flint, Michigan

High School attended: International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, MI

Years at buildOn: 2002-2005

How did buildOn change your life?
It made me believe that if you put forth time, commitment and dedication you could do anything. It made us look at bigger problems in communities and I grew to know other communities outside of my bubble. It helped you realize you could help someone by doing something so simple and it makes you feel good.

How has buildOn made a difference in your city?
It helps engage the youth and give them something better to do after school instead of going home and watching TV or slacking off. It gives you something to look forward to do after school that’s not school, and get to meet new people who want to do good things.

What are some of your favorite memories working with buildOn?
During my junior year of high school buildOn offered a program for volunteer interns during the summer, and I was accepted. I was working with the medical director of a psychiatric ward.

[pullquote]I’m really happy I’m still connected to these few individuals from buildOn. And you stay connected forever.[/pullquote]

Besides doing buildOn activities, we did things to help build camaraderie to get to know people from other schools, and I’m really happy I’m still connected to these few individuals. And you stay connected forever.

What have you done since graduating high school?
I went to undergrad at Michigan State University and studied psychology. I also had a specialization in bioethics and health promotion, which influenced my decision to go into public health. I’m applying to medical school and over the year do research on qat… I want SYFF to be the link between the USA and Yemen. I think it’s important to establish communication so we can establish something greater.

Complete this sentence: buildOn is… a powerful inspiration to youth around the world. It teaches members the importance of giving back not only to the local community but to the international one, as well.