Members of the winning team from the inaugural Sila Abu Dhabi conference were awarded by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) alongside a number of prominent members of the UAE community last week as part of a UAE National Day celebration.
The Sila Abu Dhabi conference, conceived and organized entirely by students, was a two-day event hosted by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute that brought together more than 50 students from eight universities across Abu Dhabi to brainstorm and develop proposals for sustainable local environment projects. Participating students from Abu Dhabi University, Higher Colleges of Technology, Khalifa University, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, NYUAD, the Petroleum Institute, Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, and Zayed University were divided into 12 teams with the aim to develop low-budget, high-impact solutions to tackle local and global environmental challenges.
The winning "Green Wudhu" team won funding of up to USD 5,000 from Sila Abu Dhabi to implement its idea to separate and repurpose the greywater used in the process of Wudhu — the washing of the arms and face in the mosque before prayer. Mandy Tan, NYUAD Class of 2015, with her teammates Margaux Hein (Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi) and Hamad Al Hammadi (Zayed University), represented the Green Wudhu team — which also included Ameera Almarzooqi (Khalifa University) and Rida Gul Qadir (Abu Dhabi University) — at the National Day award event.
"I think the fact that we were invited to this event by the ECSSR is a sign of what this country is striving for," Tan said. "It's a sign that we [NYUAD] are going in the right direction and that we're contributing to and engaging with the community."
"Before we decided on Green Wudhu, we had three or four ideas being tossed around, but when this one came up we all automatically had that spark," Tan explained. "Once we knew it was the one, we were all passionate about it."
Sila brings people together to try to solve problems in the community — it's our duty to try to solve them.
The team proceeded to research and develop an implementation plan within two days, including calling engineering companies for price estimates to modify pipelines, visiting an Imam at a mosque near NYUAD's Downtown Campus, and drafting sample letters to the concerned authorities. Determining that one individual can use up to nine gallons of water a day through the process of Wudhu five times a day, and accounting for the approximate daily visitors to the mosque, the team calculated that the local mosque they visited used 2,628,000 gallons of water a year. By changing the course of the Wudhu pipelines to a separate collection tank, the team proposed that this still relatively clean water could be reused for watering the landscape around the mosque — resulting in saved water, energy, and money. Starting with a pilot project in one mosque, and following with a study of its results, the team plans to eventually reach out to other mosques in Abu Dhabi to implement the same technique.
Alongside the 11 other participating teams, the Green Wudhu team was supported through the process by an advisory board of academics and industry experts. "The advisory board emphasized that you have to have every part of the idea thought out," Tan said. "I think that's one of the reasons we won — our plan was very comprehensive."
The team has already begun mapping out next steps to bring their plan to life within the next three months. "The most important thing is for us to reach out to engineers to make sure it's implemented in a high-quality and sustainable way," Tan said.
"This experience inspired me and made me realize my own capabilities," Tan continued, adding that she has seen a change in her electricity and water consumption habits following the event. "Sila brings people together to try to solve problems in the community — it's our duty to try to solve them."
Following the final presentations at the conclusion of the conference, industry and government representatives expressed interest in a number of the proposals. The first runner-up team developed a project called "Ethra'a" that proposes to create a fertilizer from camel manure and charred palm tree fronds to produce a biochar substance that can be mixed with soil, allowing it to retain water up to six times better than the average soil, thus leading to significant groundwater savings. The project "Dhabi Share" was second runner up for its proposal to create a web platform, targeted to local university students, to encourage safe carpooling throughout the emirates.
Founder of Sila Connection Alf Lim, NYUAD Class of 2015, said: "The fact that students from universities across Abu Dhabi came together to develop these amazing projects has been an incredibly rewarding experience."