Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Unforgettable Summer: My Journey during Millennial Trains Project

The Millennial Trains Project (MTP) was the most fascinating time I spent in the U.S. before traveling back to my home country, Iraq. I had just finished my Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at University of Wisconsin Green Bay, and was offered the chance to participate in MTP and travel across America on a vintage train. I joined five other Fulbright Foreign Students and 20 American innovators and entrepreneurs. The trip was a living experience to understand American culture and discover different parts of America. On the train, there were new things to learn each day through mentors who joined us from different states and through Pioneer Journey sessions (a leadership curriculum by City Year). The mentors and Pioneer Journey sessions motivated participants to discuss their projects and goals. This project also reflects the kind and peaceful coexistence that is possible among people from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries–participants gathered on this train to exchange ideas, create change in their community, and build a harmonious society. 

Farm at The Renewable Republic, Texas

My idea to achieve change in a community is through an urban agriculture project which became possible because of my participation in the MTP train project. The project was promising since our first stop took place in Los Angeles, California where I visited the WORKS organization. This organization is interested in offering affordable housing and food for seniors and people with disabilities. In San Antonio, Texas, I interviewed the owner and director of The Renewable Republic where he used an empty plot of land near his house to plant a variety of fruits and vegetables. Renewable Republic also has a mobile juice van working on solar power as a source of clean energy.

Selfie with President of WORKS, Los Angeles

One of my favorite stops was in Louisiana where I visited the New Orleans Center of Creative Arts (NOCCA), which has a culinary art department established by the famous chef Emeril Lagasse. I met the Director of Gardens where they grow produce for the kitchen to teach students cooking, and use the rest at a newly opened café. In New Orleans, I also visited Rouses Supermarkets and interviewed the director of the rooftop hydroponics systems. The supermarket established a tower-shaped system to grow herbs by only using water circulated through a single pump submerged in a tank underneath each tower. The director only adds nutrients to the water and the produce is ready to be harvested and sold in the market. 

With MTP Fellow in Austin, TX

MTP participants engaged in fun activities during the journey other than solely doing research. In Austin, Texas we spent the day in the city and visited the capital building. In San Antonio, we visited the downtown area and went to the 3D Tomb Rider Game which was so much fun. MTP trains project is such a unique experience and I am fortunate to have met great people, shared ideas, and have fun. Our adventure ended in Washington, DC where we had discussion panel in the Department of State. 

With Fulbrighters in Washington, DC

In New Orleans, by the Mississippi River

Saja Al-Quzweeni is an Iraqi Fulbright alumna who completed a Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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