ABU DHABI// Students from eight universities gathered this weekend to brainstorm practical solutions to local environmental problems, competing for US$5,000 in seed money.
The winning project was a plan to recycle the water used during wudhu - ritual washing before prayer. The "green wudhu" plan would start with one mosque, collecting wudhu water and using it to irrigate mosque gardens. The plan could save up to 11.8 million litres of water per year, the team said.
"This is only for one mosque," said team-member Mandy Tan, 19, an NYU Abu Dhabi student. "Think about the potential this could have for the entire UAE."
The two-day workshop, called Sila for "connection," was organised by students from NYU Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi University, Higher Colleges of Technology, Khalifa University, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Petroleum Institute, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and Zayed University.
Sixty students were selected to compete from about 150 applicants, said organiser Alf Lim, a 20-year-old NYU Abu Dhabi student. The students formed 12 teams that mixed university affiliations, majors and nationalities with the goal of forming new connections, Mr Lim said.
"We want them to connect and stay connected," he said.
Each team developed a pilot project addressing one of three topics: water, energy or waste and recycling. An advisory board of experts in the field critiqued their ideas.
And last night, the teams presented their projects to a separate panel of judges.
In addition to Ms Tan, other members of the winning team were Ameera Al Marzooqi (Khalifa University), Hamad Al Hammadi (Zayed University), Margaux Hein (Paris-Sorbonne) and Rida Gul (Abu Dhabi University).
The team calculated that one person uses 40 litres of water each day performing wudhu, said Ms Al Marzooqi, 17. They consulted local companies to get cost quotes and found they could make the necessary piping changes - and fund an awareness program among mosque members - for less than $5,000.
"I love it because it's such a local thing," Mr Lim said. "Even if you get expertise from outside, they wouldn't understand this."
Other project ideas included a web platform to arrange ride-shares; a computer game to teach children about saving energy; and a plan to create a "biochar" substance from camel manure and palm fronds to help farmers conserve water.
The concept behind Sila was conceived in February by Mr Lin and his peers; they have worked to plan it since then. They hope the workshop will continue in the coming years and expand beyond Abu Dhabi.
"I'm so excited that the students have worked amongst themselves," said Sophia Kalantzakos, an environmental studies professor at NYU Abu Dhabi. "It's completely student-led."
The idea is to tackle large problems from a local perspective, designing "small, practical solutions," she said.