DAAD Alumni Conference "Environment and Health"

Environmental health has no borders

Over the past decade, the ASEAN countries, especially Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, have reached a rapid economic growth. These rapid developments had not only positive effects on the human well-being, there are also many negative influences. Air pollution, the exploitation of natural resources and the extinction of different species are only a few examples. Although the countries in the ASEAN region has different basics and requirements, the region has no other possibility than working together to fight the environmental crisis.

One good opportunity to show the regional strength and common goals was the Regional DAAD Alumni Meeting held by the DAAD, 26-28 May in Hanoi, Vietnam. In his welcome speech the German ambassador to Vietnam pointed out, that the ASEAN countries should take a cooperation with Europa as a starting point- but most important: "ASEAN can be strong in itself".

A new format of cross-border networking

About 200 alumni from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam came together in Hanoi at the Regional Alumni Meeting on "Environment & Health" to discuss the current environmental issues in South-East Asia. "The Regional Alumni Meeting is a wonderful opportunity, as the regional problems have to be solved across the borders", said Heidi Wedel, Head of Section Alumni Programmes at the DAAD Bonn, about the conference.

We honestly have to find a way to keep our environment, because this is also a way keep our health.

Tran Quoc Den, Vietnam

The conference assured with a new and innovative format: all participants should not only consume, they were asked to participate actively in the conference. In six different workshops with environment related topics, all participants played a part in solution-oriented presentations and discussions. 14 talks gave the chance to listen to short, understandable and, most important, inspiring ideas. These talks gave the listeners "food for thoughts" and inspired for future environmental work and networking. All the results were summed up in plenary sessions.

Well attended and a lot of talking material was provided by the "Wall of Ideas". Here all participants could leave a note with ideas for future alumni work and networking. If somebody had concrete ideas about a project, he or she could also leave a projects description to find cooperation partners.

"It’s all about life": The big role of education and what to do with this knowledge

During the three days of intense discussion and networking, again and again the topic of education came up. There was a broad agreement, that education is fundamental for the work with environmental issues. By participating the DAAD alumni meeting, the participants got remembered of their own studies and research and studies in Germany and agreed on the great impact of their education on their life.

We do not expect anything from the world because the world already given us free air, free water and free food to eat. So we are getting a lot of things from the environment, we have to give to the world.

Ajantha Perera, Sri Lanka/Fiji

Ajantha Perera, the keynote speaker from Sri Lanka, reported her own experiences: "Only with my PhD I can teach at the University and change the life of my students. So I value education very highly because it gives you a ticket to get anywhere you want. I also work with the poorest people in the world and I encourage them to send their children to school. I'm very keen on pointing out to send the children to school. It is also important to encourage women. If you want to change something in the world, you need to have education".

Although education plays such a big role in the field of environmental protection, Anke Stahl, Director of the DAAD regional Office Hanoi, emphasised that every single person can make a contribution: "You don’t have to be an expert in a field of study to protect the environment, but you have to be an expert in life". For the DAAD it is not only important to send young students and researchers to Germany, more important is the engagement after the experience in Germany. That is why the work with and from the alumni play an important role for possible environmental change. Linh Bui, DAAD alumna and Alexander von Humboldt fellow, encouraged every alumni to use their alumni status and work together with the DAAD and other institutions to pave the way for future generations.

Sustainability starts with awareness

One keyword that should not be missed in any discussion about environmental issues is sustainability. To be sure, that the progress which was made at the Regional Alumni Meeting does not get lost in the future, it has to be made sure that the discussion continues on national and regional level. Moreover, there has to be real actions now: "The point is, how we as researchers and also the local people can motivate and make the changes. The potential has to become real actions", said Ms. Linh Bui (Vietnam).

At the panel discussion with the title "Where do we go from here? Opportunities for the region" were found a few possible answers. Everybody agrees: one of the most important steps is to give the experience and knowledge to the younger generation. Not only that they will be aware of environmental issues but also to secure the continuation of the work. Especially the alumni have to take responsibility: "We can only provide the platform, the activities will have to come from you" encouraged Anke Stahl.

In line with the conference goals and the work of the DAAD, the Vietnamese co-ordinator of the 'Alumniportal Deutschland' Pham Hung Tien confirmed: "Communication is everything. Together we can solve the problems".  One way to work together across the borders is, of course, the Alumniportal Deutschland where every member can not only gain information, but also find and search actively other ideas and projects. Besides the opportunity of virtual networking, conferences like the Regional Alumni Meeting play a big role to create a common basis.

In order to change some behaviour or practice, the people have to be aware of the issue and then change their attitude. I think the social media have a very important part in this.

Tran Huong Thu, Vietnam

For Ajantha Perera sustainability is also to give away responsibility to others: "You always have to think about that you will not always be there. This is sustainability". It is not only important to spread the idea of one’s own, but also to make sure that this idea and all work around it will be preserved.

The future of cross-border collaboration

After three days of discussing the current environmental problems and their most efficient solutions, there was an enthusiastic mood among the participants of the Regional Alumni Meeting. While sharing a lot of knowledge and ideas, new contacts were closed. The new DAAD Director of Hanoi's Regional Office Stefan Hase-Bergen pointed out that he want to continue the work of Anke Stahl and concentrate on the important work with the alumni when he will be in charge in September 2017.

The great success of the conference is also evident in the conference developed competition "Green Champions of South-East Asia". Based on the initiative of Ajantha Perera and launched at the World Environment Day on June 5th, all alumni have the chance to send in their environmental project ideas and participate the "Green Champions of South-East Asia" competition for one year. Especially the new established contacts at the Regional Alumni Meeting should be used to send in cross-border projects and continue the theoretical discussions at the conference with practical work.

''Green Champions of South-East Asia'' competition

To get more information and stay tuned about the "Green Champions of South-East Asia" competition, please check the competition website following this link: www.daadvn.org/greenchampions.