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Meet Ranim and Ian, the Delaware River Fellows Who Want Us to #PhilaBag With Litter
Water

Meet Ranim and Ian, the Delaware River Fellows Who Want Us to #PhilaBag With Litter

Two youth fellows at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge are working to make clean-ups accessible, safe, and widespread. To help, all you have to do is fill a bag with trash and share a photo on social media with #PhilaBag.

This summer, the Alliance for Watershed Education hired 13 young fellows from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware to build capstone initiatives in conjunction with local organizations. The projects, focused on environmental issues and education, allow a diverse group of environmental stewards to create solutions and gain experience in the industry.

Ranim Albarkawi and Ian Johnson, two fellows based in Philadelphia at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, have spent their summer months developing clean-up, conservation, and education initiatives — both inside the refuge and beyond.

Albarkawi and Johnson working at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, courtesy of Nancy Becker.

Since the pandemic prevented the pair from organizing clean-up and outreach events, they decided to encourage individual action with the power of social media.

The #PhilaBag campaign, which Albarkawi and Johnson promote through the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Instagram page, urges locals to participate in street clean-ups while stuck at home.

To make involvement simple and accessible, the center offers no-contact delivery of “drop-off bags” that include gloves, trash bags, and a laminated flyer.

“The whole purpose of the #PhilaBag campaign was to circumvent some of the limitations created by COVID-19… It primarily was supposed to be a virtual thing where we could engage people through social media, so you had no reason not to participate,” explained Johnson.

He also noted that their goal is to make participation as easy as possible, and that the efforts of every individual have positive, long-term effects on the health of the Delaware River Watershed.

“It’s as easy as just filling up one bag of trash. So you can take whatever bag you can find, go outside, and fill it up. We think we aren’t asking too much of people, and they have no reason really to not go outside, pick up trash, and protect their watershed.”

While the #Philabag campaign has been a primary focus, Albarkawi and Johnson have individual responsibilities at the refuge as well.

Albarkawi worked with a biologist and has been intimately involved in John Heinz’s conservation and invasive species mitigation endeavors.

“We built pollinator hotels and installed them; we’ve done a lot of maintenance in terms of invasive species. We try to allow the natural habitat to flourish and grow,” she said.

Johnson has been working closely with the Visitor Services team and has helped to facilitate education programs. He has also aided in the refuge’s efforts to restore the site and its aesthetics after Hurricane Isaias caused massive damage.

“We did some maintenance work, trail signage, we were working on getting the parking lot up and running again for the public… The refuge is kind of in shambles right now after the flood damage. The rising water level just swept tons of trash through the refuge,” he shared.

Now, after four months of hard work, the two fellows—along with their 11 peers—are preparing to share their projects at the 2020 Fellowship Summit this Friday, August 14th, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Tune in to Facebook Live here to learn more about their research, findings, and experiences.

You can check out Green Philly’s piece on the 2019 fellows here, and browse the impressive profiles of current and past Delaware River Fellows on the Alliance for Watershed Education website.

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Avery Matteo
Avery is a junior at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in English. She is currently an Editorial Intern at Green Philly. In her free time, you can find her curled up with an iced coffee, a book, and her adorable dog Cosmo. View all posts by Avery Matteo

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