The Brazilian Hunger Games-style competition shaking up sustainability education

While The Hunger Games was a terrifying dystopian nightmare, The Sustainability Games are an inspirational invention that uses competition among young people to build a better world.

Founded by Brazil-based One Young World (OYW) Ambassador Rafael Gomes Angelo, this is an edifying contest that owes more to the unifying spirit of the Olympics, which came to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Sustainability Games - Brazil

The Sustainability Games have grown to serve some 500 children, aged 11 and 12, attending public schools in Brazil. The games have helped the children to a better understanding of such topics as clean energy, climate change, recycling and water scarcity.

Rafael has been chosen as OYW's Ambassador of the Month for January and his work comes at a critical time, amid concerns over extreme weather (ranked as the leading threat in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018) and the environmental damage caused by plastic waste.

“We had to decide how we would achieve sustainable awareness with these kids and we felt it would not be a good idea to just give a lecture because kids don’t like that kind of stuff,” Rafael tells One Young World. “So we decided to make something nicer and more interesting for them - and that’s games!”

Sustainability Games - Brazil

The Sustainability Games incorporates a range of mini-competitions staged in school, including a cookery contest (in the style of TV format Masterchef), with imaginative dishes made with ingredients from the family kitchen that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Other contests involve correctly sorting waste products into appropriate recycling bins; and making household decorations from reusable materials such as packaging, newspaper and plastic bottles.

Sustainability Games competitors also take part in a Question & Answer session which tests their knowledge of subjects such as water scarcity, clean energy and the greenhouse effect.

Rafael and his team members help with judging of the games.

Participating schools are provided with a detailed manual on The Sustainability Games to help the school authorities understand the concept of the project and to enable teachers and children to prepare properly for the games. “All the schools have really liked the idea as a fun way to teach such an important topic,” Rafael says.

Sustainability Games - Brazil

A delegate at the One Young World 2016 Summit in Ottawa, Rafael, 30, works for Siemens as a project manager specializing in the energy sector. He says he was inspired by the Summit to work on having an impact with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. “In Brazil the public education is not of good quality and we have a lot of public schools around Siemens facilities all around the country,” he says. “So we decided to make a project for young people that attend public schools.”

He elected to work with 11-12 year olds because he determined that they would be both receptive to the educational messages on sustainable living and excited by the prospect of games. “They can pass this education to their friends, parents and siblings,” he says. “They are not too young to join in competitions and not too old to be educated."

The Sustainability Games project has received support from Siemens’s Corporate Social Responsibility team in Brazil and Rafael is hopeful that in 2018 he will be able to extend its work to new schools close to other Siemens facilities. He has also participated in other Siemens schemes for disadvantaged children, teaching math and job-finding skills and giving mentoring.

So far, The Sustainability Games has been based in schools in São Paulo, Jundiaí (outside São Paulo), and Manaus. Rafael hopes to take the games to Rio and to other cities such as Salvador and Belo Horizonte.

“With proof that this is a good project and its impact is huge then I think that I will be able to get more support and spread these Sustainability Games to other places where Siemens is located,” he says. “This is the plan for 2018 and the years ahead.”

Read the full list of January's Ambassador of the Month projects here.