The Youth Voices series’ goal is to highlight young people’s inspiring work and positive initiatives in their communities.
My name is Felix Bookhart-Tsai, and I am a student at American International School and living in Hong Kong. I was born in the United States. However, in 2013, my family relocated to Hong Kong. From a young age, I have always taken an interest in wildlife. As I got older, I began to realize the importance of animals for the environment and how vulnerable they are. It deeply pained me to discover the extent to which habitats are polluted and destroyed.
As a result, I started thinking about different ways I could help to minimize such damage. I aim to help preserve wildlife and the natural environment while offering a helping hand to those in need. My core SDGs are: SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 14: Life Below Water.
Take a look at his initiative, SolarMask, here: www.solarmask.org
What is something adults do not understand about youth? What is a common misconception they have about young people?
I feel as though adults often overlook youth. A common misconception is that since adolescents are still maturing and have undergone less formal education than adults, we are unfit to be approached on real-world issues as we don’t have anything valuable to offer. However, in reality, despite our potential gaps in knowledge compared to adults, we are still capable of making significant impacts on our communities.
Youth minds offer fresh perspectives and unique approaches to solving problems, and as part of the KIDsforSDGs community, we witness this from the 300+ strong group of young changemakers leading with both through and action. At the end of the day, youth will be responsible for the future advancements and reforms of society, so it is of the utmost importance that we are included in the conversation when deciding how to move forward.
What was the first moment of enlightenment that encouraged you to take action for the society you live in?
I vividly remember one day in my junior year of school where I was researching marine pollution when I stumbled upon an alarming statistic estimating that roughly 1.6 billion disposable masks would be polluting the ocean by the end of 2020. In addition to this, I had just finished a school report on coral bleaching, which really opened my eyes to the importance of maintaining marine life and life and preserving ecosystems all over the world.
What are the projects you are currently working on? What are the challenges you and your organization are facing today?
I have been working on an initiative called SolarMask that aims to reduce disposable face mask pollution while offering a safe, affordable, and timely solution for individuals in developing countries to reuse their masks. SolarMask promotes the use of a solar oven as a means of mask sterilization. The solar oven may be created using basic items that can be found in most households.
Once the oven reaches 60 degrees Celsius, the face mask may be placed inside the cooker for 10 minutes to kill the bacteria. The main challenge I am facing is collecting data. As I was completing my experiments, I ran into many obstacles that delayed the process. While I do have data supporting the solar disinfection approach, I need to carry out more experiments to be absolutely sure that this method is completely safe.
How can we make intergenerational collaboration between young people and decision-makers happen?
Capacity-building for a social impact project like SolarMask requires user-friendliness and ease of access to raw materials or pre-made components. The first home-made solar oven can be further refined by continued experimentation to arrive at an ideal set of component parts. To maximise the chances of uptake, materials should be easily and readily available at little or no cost – here we need the support corporate decision-makers.
A full and updated explanation of which materials work best and which alternative materials might be used would allow for people to implement them no matter their local situation. These goals should lead to more people being able to build the oven in more places. As well as sharing in a community of like-minded people, the contributions are effectively expanding the research base and allowing for new ideas and/or local adaptations. This will overcome the issue of what materials might be available in different places – and broaden potential collaboration amongst the various stakeholders.
What would you like to tell decision-makers?
As SolarMask proceeds, it is our intention to establish a Scientific Advisory Board to help govern our research and development and commercialization strategy. We welcome the engagement and support of decision-makers united behind our mission!
Copyright: Felix Bookhart-Tsai; photo courtesy: Felix-Bookhart-Tsai