How USAID and NASA are Partnering to Support Youth Climate Action

the USAID administrator talking to a student in Southeast Asai
Pongkhun speaks with Linda McElroy, Deputy Mission Director for USAID/RDMA. (Photo credit: ADPC)

Youth are not only the climate leaders of tomorrow, but their perspectives and innovations are necessary to address climate issues today. Unfortunately, youth are often not consulted or included in important decisions about climate. To address this gap, SERVIR, a joint partnership between USAID and NASA, is working with a global network of partners to ensure that all members of a community, including youth, are engaged in climate action. Read on to learn how SERVIR’s partners are centering youth as climate leaders.

BlueSchools in Thailand

two people standing giving presentation
BlueSchools student Pongkhun Jikhao (center left), joined by his teacher Thosaporn Thongson (center right), reads a poem about air quality to the audience of the Inclusive Climate Action Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Photo credit: ADPC)

Air pollution in Thailand is a serious public health concern, and communities there are collaborating with SERVIR Southeast Asia to explore new and innovative ways to keep people safe and healthy. To get air quality updates to the people who need them most, SERVIR Southeast Asia has been supporting Thailand’s “BlueSchools” Program–which aims to help kids become “air quality heroes.”

The BlueSchools Program educates primary school students about the effects of air pollution, steps they can take to stay healthy, and ways they can talk to their families about the issue. Participating classrooms receive air quality monitoring stations that display the current PM2.5 levels in their area. SERVIR Southeast Asia provides BlueSchools with customized fire hotspot data from NASA, and has supported the program through a series of student-teacher workshops.

At SERVIR Southeast Asia’s Inclusive Climate Action Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, students from Ban Mae Toai Elementary School were invited as special guests to speak about the role kids can play in addressing air quality. The opening ceremony of the event included a poem written by one such student, Pongkhun Jikhao, about how air quality affects his community. According to Jikhao’s teacher, Thosaporn Thongson, BlueSchools is about more than just giving kids more information about air quality: “We want to teach them to guide with knowledge, and to build their confidence in their ability to share that knowledge.”

Jóvenes Geoespaciales in El Salvador

Astronaut Rubio with students taking a selfie
Jóvenes Geoespaciales workshop participants meet with NASA astronaut Frank Rubio at the Connecting Space to Community event in San Miguel, El Salvador. (Photo credit: Juan Carolos Quintero/U.S. Embassy in El Salvador)

Recently, SERVIR partnered with the Central American Aerospace Network (RAC in Spanish) to lead the Jóvenes Geoespaciales (Geospatial Youth) workshop for 45 talented young students from economically disadvantaged communities in El Salvador. The Jóvenes Geoespaciales students worked in groups to develop a wide range of climate resilience projects, such as creating maps for tracking fire outbreaks, mangrove deforestation, and crop health. At the end of the workshop, the students presented what they learned to visiting NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, the first person of Salvadoran descent to travel to space.

RAC is dedicated to building the capacity of youth, women, and Indigenous and rural communities throughout the region. RAC has developed an effective strategy where, in just a few days, participants use geospatial tools like drones and satellite data to develop projects for local climate resilience. Since 2019, RAC has trained over 700 women and youth in geospatial technology. 

YouthMappers in Ghana

large group of youth standing outside
The University of Ghana YouthMappers chapter that supported mapping efforts following the Akosombo Dam flooding. (Photo credit: UG YouthMappers)

In Ghana, SERVIR is partnering with YouthMappers, a youth-led organization that creates mapping tools to support local development and humanitarian initiatives. YouthMappers is not only a valuable resource for student skill-building, but the maps that these young participants create directly inform local climate decision-making.

For example, in 2023, local authorities consulted YouthMappers after the Akosombo Dam flooding, which impacted roughly 30,000 residents. After events like floods, the government relies on demographic data about the number of individuals within affected households to allocate resources like food, blankets, and cookstoves. YouthMappers led a crowdsourced mapping initiative that played a critical role in flood relief. They were able to collect both demographic data as well as information about the extent and severity of flooding. Looking ahead, SERVIR is partnering with YouthMappers on additional environmental initiatives, including ecosystem restoration efforts.