Protecting the Rouge: In English & Arabic!
On a Saturday morning in August, in the Dearborn neighborhood known as the South End, groups of kids and adults from the Arab American community took to the streets with spray cans, painting fish on the streets. No, they weren’t graffiti artists. They were volunteers for the bilingual storm drain stenciling project, a community action project of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS).
In an effort to educate residents of the mostly immigrant neighborhood about the need to protect water quality, about 20 volunteers spray painted the message “Dump No Waste, Drains to River” with the image of a fish, in both English and Arabic on the street near each storm drain. As they moved through the neighborhood, volunteers also collected trash, and placed bilingual “door hangers” on the door of each residence, explaining the importance of preventing motor oil, trash, pesticides, fertilizers and other household chemicals from entering into the storm drains, which flow directly into the Rouge River.
The storm drain stenciling project was the result of hard work and leadership by two young women, Amina Gellani and Insaf Hamood. Both Gellani and Hamood worked as summer interns at ACCESS this year, and both are participants in the Youth Achieving Leadership and Learning About the Environment (YALLA!*) program at ACCESS. The YALLA program aims to promote environmental leadership and career development among high school students in the Arab American community, through field trips, career panels and environmental leadership activities.
Gellani, now a college freshman, says her participation in the YALLA program was rewarding and opened her eyes to new opportunities. “Now, I know that there are more possibilities out there,” says Gellani. “Now I know that there are people out there who work hard for the environment and for our community. I enjoy being a part of the people that help. It’s very satisfying.”
In this urban industrial neighborhood where environmental challenges are plentiful, it is exciting to see emerging leaders like Gellani and Hamood, who enjoy being a part of the solution and are willing to work hard for the environment and their community.
*“Yalla” is an Arabic word, which translates “Come on, let’s go!”