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Blazing a trail for the next generation of environmentalists

environmentalistAs the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management’s (CIWEM) young environmentalist of the year, Matthew Jack is passionate about making a difference.

Matthew, who is currently an assistant project manager at Jacobs, was recently given the award, by the institute in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field, which have taken him from his home near Manchester to Africa.

‘I would like my generation to be the first generation to leave the world in a better state than when we found it,’ he tells Environment Journal.

‘We need to improve our environment, not continue to make it worse. My generation need to be the first one to stop and say we need to make improvements rather than continuing on the path we are on.’

He was fundraising lead of a group of around 30 people from the charitable organisation Engineers for Overseas Development, and helped raise more than £60,000 to build and design a sustainably constructed medical centre and kindergarten in Mayuge, Uganda.

Matthew says the group spent two years on the project, which was finally completed in January this year.

‘This was my first experience of travelling outside of Europe and it’s hard to explain what was so magical about it, but the people were so friendly and everyone was so happy. It was a really good experience,’ he says.

‘We employed a construction company, whilst we oversaw,’ he adds. ‘We picked a construction company called the Haileybury Youth Trust, because they pick people from the local community, who have no experience and employ them.

‘We had six guys working on our site with no previous experience and by coming to work they are completely up-skilled with all the construction practices we were using it. Those six guys can now provide for their families with a career route.

‘The centre itself was built using a range of sustainable construction techniques,’ he adds. ‘We had solar panels, passive cooling systems and interlocking, stabilised soil bricks.

‘They were like Lego blocks, which we made onsite. The traditional way in Uganda is to use hand-moulded clay bricks, which are fired in a wood-burning kiln. But using these kilns causes an immense amount of deforestation and CO2 being released to the atmosphere.

‘The interlocking stabilised soil bricks are made by mixing soil, a small amount of cement and moisture. You put those into a compression machine, and when it comes out, you leave them to cure in the sun. It’s a six-week process, with one day in the sun, one in the shade, but by the end they are much more stable than traditional bricks.’

Building independence

He adds the medical centre also is a base for three or four jeeps with testing equipment and qualified medical professionals, who can go around the nearby area doing visits.

‘The kindergarten was built with the intention of promoting gender equality,’ he added. ‘One of the biggest problems our research showed was up to 65% of women have been victims of inter-gender violence. One of the main factors behind that is that due to traditional Ugandan gender roles woman are not usually financially independent from their husbands.

‘By building this kindergarten, we are allowing daytime childcare for the under sixes, which will allow woman to go and work thus gaining financial independence,’ he explains.

With the Uganda project now complete, Matthew is working on a project closer to home in his local area of Manchester, which is to restore the Haughton Dale nature reserve.

‘I grew up around Hyde in Manchester,’ he recalls. ‘As a kid, we would ride our bikes down into the nature reserve after school and climb trees.

‘The river Tame goes right through the nature reserve. As a kid I remember going through the woods and seeing these streams and seeing them full of orange gunk, which I know now was probably fat. At the time I had no idea. We used to pretend it was radio active waste and we were going to get superpowers.’

Currently his plans are still at an initial stage. Matthew says he has already talked to his local Green Party branch and MP Jonathan Reynolds about how they can clean up and restore the nature reserve to its former glory.

‘It’s a good time to have a look in my own community and see what I can do to aid it,’ he adds.

The project will start by cleaning up the site and Matthew is hopeful they can use smart phones and social media, so people can report any fly tipping or problems on the site. He also wants to see more litter bins and CCTV cameras installed.

‘I would like to express my gratitude to CIWEM for giving me this fantastic accolade and to Jacobs, who are a wonderful company to work for and who have supported my development and extracurricular activities over the last three years,’ he added.

CIWEM’s young environmentalist of the year award is now in its seventh year and applications for the 2018 award will open in January.

‘It is great to see this competition grow every year and to see more and more young people actively making a positive different to water and environmental causes,’ said CIWEM chief executive, Terry Fuller.

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