What I know now: Zahra's SAP learning experience

“Running a Social Action Project [SAP] requires dedication, commitment and a willingness to bring about change in your society,” says 20-year-old Zahra Ahmad, a dedicated Active Citizen from Lahore, Pakistan.

Their SAP, ‘Save A Paper, Save A Tree’ aims to reduce paper wastage in schools around Lahore. “We all believe in bringing about change to create a healthy environment, and the purpose of the campaign is to generate a feeling of responsibility among both students and the school's administration towards their immediate surroundings and the environment.”

According to a survey of 700 students, the paper-wasting habits of both students and staff highlighted:  

  • Schools tend to issue notices to students and parents on paper. However, 92 per cent of respondents claimed they either immediately throw the paper notices away and/or tell their parents the news verbally. 
  • Each student uses around ten sheets of paper daily, roughly 2,500 sheets annually.
  • Approximately 9,000 sheets of paper are made from one tree. A school of 700 students may use around 400 trees a year
  • Manual school library systems are prone to inefficiency, with infrequent tracking of misplaced books and few fines issued for lost or late returns. An astonishing 42 per cent of students who borrowed books failed to return them. 
  • Student records stored by administrative departments are described by the report as a 'paper graveyard' – information is buried in overstuffed files and is difficult to make sense of as a result of poor management practice.

"Keeping in mind the environmental cause of saving trees, our team of six university students wanted to create awareness of paper-saving at school level,” says Zahra. “We didn't want to be one of those 'awareness campaigns' that just pass by without making a difference. We aim to provide feasible solutions to reducing paper consumption. After all, it’s about making a difference in society by being an agent of change.

"This year we're working with 20 schools in Lahore. Activities are being held at each school for two days, one with students and the other with administrative staff. One of our suggestions to schools is to show them how to use computer software as a way of carrying out administration without using paper. Meanwhile, we carry out a one-day workshop and inter-school competition for pupils based on the theme of saving paper."

To ensure financial sustainability of the project, the team were on the lookout for sponsors. Luckily, they gained support of a company that offers to provide low-cost administration software to schools involved in the project “The school just has to pay the monthly rent for the software and get the service activated at their end. The company is willing to give 20 per cent of this monthly rent to our team in order to fulfil our running costs. They will also give full technical support to school staff and offer quick responses to queries," she explains. 

Challenging attitudes 

"Our survey showed that a major portion of paper wastage is created in administration departments,” says Zahra. Both a resistance to change among school staff and the older generation’s apparent unwillingness to engage with younger people remains a major hurdle. "The biggest challenge facing the project is that people often seem less than willing to listen to a 20-year-old student,” she says. “After we provide school staff with a brief introduction about the project, they sometimes ask when they can meet with someone more senior. Their interest vanishes the moment they're told our group is comprised of students! How to convince everyone that we have the spirit to make a change in society remains an unanswered question right now.”

However, Zahra remains undaunted. "I tell them that we are open to any suggestions and solutions,” she says. “This demonstrates that above all we want to promote our SAP and make it successful."

"The main advice I have for others working on SAPs is to remain determined, focused and flexible in the approach of improving or solving a social issue,” says Zahra. “Also, be open to discussion. This is the best way to find out what your ideas need in order to develop. Finally, be prepared to learn from your mistakes and move forward with a new vision.”