Human waste as sustainable energy? These high schoolers made it happen.

Leroy Mwasaru was a high school student at Kenya's prestigious Maseno School when a dorm room renovation created an unfortunate situation.

The school's outdoor latrines overflowed into the local water supply.

Understandably, this made some people quite upset. But Mwasaru saw this as an opportunity to turn something revolting into a revolution.


All GIFs from Makeshift/YouTube.

If he could redirect the overflowing human waste, it could give them cleaner water and help the school save money on fire and electricity.

See, at that same time, his school was spending a lot of money on firewood, which, like many Kenyan buildings, it used to fuel its kitchens, heat, and lights. It can be labor intensive to gather all that wood — and it's even more expensive to buy it.  Plus, all the soot and ash it creates is not good for the staff to consume on such a regular and large-scale basis.

Mwasaru and his friends speak with school staff about the wood-burning furnace. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

So Mwasaru thought — why not use a biogas digester instead?

In his sophomore year biology class, he had learned how these digesters can harvest natural bacterial byproducts, such as human waste and turn it into natural gas energy through a process called anaerobic digestion.

"I initially researched renewable energy and biogas [digesters] just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity," Mwasaru explains over email. "After a while, it became so much more than biology — there was chemistry too. It got to solving problems my local community faced, such as lack of access to affordable renewable energy."

Students on the Maseno School campus. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

Mwasaru recruited a group of friends, and over the next year, they built a working prototype biogas digester for the school.

His initial proposal was met with some level of resistance from the community. "I want to burn our poop to fuel the kitchen" isn't exactly the kind of thing anyone wants to hear from a high school student.

"That's what pushed me to make sure it came to pass, and made sure it benefited them. Sometimes it's the bad energy you get that pushes you to do stuff," Mwasaru says.

Their earliest tests began by collecting raw "fuel" in the form of cow dung, food waste, fresh cut grass, and eventually, water.

These components were then mixed together into a paste...

... that they poured into a plastic vessel — the digester itself.

The natural bacteria contained in all these ingredients was more than enough to spark the anaerobic process as it broke down the organic waste materials.

Over time, the dense physical waste drops down to the bottom of the container, separating from the bacteria's combustible gas byproduct, which can then be collected and used for energy.

Lighting a burner with harvested biogas.

Granted, there were a few hiccups along the way. "I have to credit the failures we have had," Mwasaru says. "Our very first bio-digester prototype had too much gas and exploded, so we had to re-learn and re-invent the model until it was stable."

After a little trial and error, Mwasaru and friends completed their first working prototype — and it was good enough to earn them a coveted spot at the Innovate Kenya startup camp.

See this video here of how his small-scale prototype worked here:

It demonstrated the basic way that the anaerobic process could be contained within a single plastic vessel with pipes to move the gas along, while directing all the other organic waste into the ground. It wasn't enough to power the entire school on its own, but it was a start.

Then, at the startup camp, the teens had the opportunity to work alongside student engineers from MIT to hone and refine their project.

Mwasaru, left, with his friends Amos Dede and Charles, who also worked on the biogas project. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

In fact, the product that this high schooler devised was so impressive that it earned them funding from Global Minimum — a charitable organization that encourages young innovators and leaders in Africa — to build a second,  improved prototype.

"Leroy seeks to understand everything he doesn't know by asking probing questions, taking notes and experimenting to learn," said David Moinina Sengeh, an MIT Researcher who also serves as Global Minimum's board president, in an interview with CNN. "His curiosity to explore and learn from doing within a motivation to bring broader social change is something that we hope to see in all our youth and frankly everyone."

Mwasaru speaking at the One Young World summit in Arizona. Photo provided by Leroy Mwasaru.

As work began on the next, larger prototype, Mwasaru had the opportunity to travel to America to speak at prestigious conferences, such as Techonomy and One Young World.

He also returned home to the small village where his father still lives and helped to install a biogas digester there too, using the dung from his father's six cows. It generates enough gas for him to share with the other 30 houses in the village. Plus, it made things easier for the women in the village — another cause that Mwasaru is passionate about — who were sometimes spending up to 24 hours a week collecting firewood.

"When I deployed the Biogas pilot in my rural home, I mainly envisioned it as a way of leveraging sustainable renewable energy to make the world a better place through my community," Mwasaru says. "Now I believe through our activities that other sectors [such as women empowerment] could benefit immensely from the approach."

The dining hall at Maseno School. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

The biogas digester project has since grown into a full-fledged startup/social enterprise called Greenpact — with Mwasaru serving as its CEO.

Since graduating from Maseno School, Mwasaru has taken a gap year to focus on the company's mission to address the lack of affordable renewable energy and proper sanitation that affects some 9 million Kenyan households.

He hopes to steer the company into an impactful organization that offers a wide range of products and services, including biogas digesters. He does have plans to go to college — but for now, Greenpact is his priority.

"I didn't see myself focusing on renewable energy but after doing some work in the field I figured out that I am actually more into renewable energy than I had imagined," Mwasaru says.

Now he's determined to show the world how to turn energy into opportunity and vice versa. The only way to do that is to stop seeing things as waste and start seeing them as resources instead.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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