Oh, how I wished I’ve known that March 10th, 2020 would be the last day of my high school. As a valedictorian senior, with COVID-19 cases rising and lockdown hitting, I’ve had plenty of concerns.
Losing my graduation ceremony was one of them. As an upcoming college freshman in the United States, starting a new life across the ocean amid a severe pandemic was another one. But being unable to lend a hand to my community at such a terrible time was the greatest concern. Except for wearing my mask, following the health officials’ guidelines, and assisting seniors to get their groceries, there wasn’t anything more I could do.
Then it struck me. Solving the greatest emergent pandemic relied only on individual steps and the goodwill of human consciousness. But the next challenge we have to deal with ahead is climate change a.k.a. the silent pandemic we can’t invent a vaccine for. So, all I could think of was: Why don’t we do the same for it, and try to tackle global warming through our everyday activities?
I did! I decided to postpone the start of my U.S. College Experience by taking a gap year. I originally planned to spend my time waiting for the year to finish by reading books and binging Netflix, but my endless quarantine received a different twist. It became a place where all of my life hardships finally turned out into positive solutions.
Losing a relative due to air pollution, I’ve created an app to help people reduce carbon emissions from their shopping and transport activities. Even though I’ve never coded before, my will to tackle this problem was greater than any excuse I could think of. I’ve named the app EnRoute, symbolizing the ability to not stop, but instead change the world on the go!
The first prototype in May 2020 was just a one-screen app written in Macedonian language. Through the quarantines and severe lockdowns, I’ve had only 70 people to test the concept with and barely created any impact. As a math Olympiad high school graduate, the process of leading a social organization seemed like a boat in a shipwreck. But instead of giving up, I chose to fill the gap and acquire some new skills.
And the coolest thing is that the more I was learning, the more and more people got interested in the idea. Through every leadership program, I went to, I built a stronger EnRoute Community where each person was equally passionate, brave, and fierce to make a change. Their enthusiasm was my greatest fuel for innovation and impact. Because of the pandemic, all boot camps were held online. Even though I couldn’t hug my classmates, at least I traveled across the world without a single carbon emitted.
Fast forward to today, a year later – through EnRoute, over 4,000 people reduced more than 150.000 kg carbon emissions. The app turned into an international movement, with ambassadors present in 52 countries. And I even found myself on Zoom calls together with my life-long idols as Shawn Mendes, Sundar Pichai, and Nile Rodgers. Coming from North Macedonia, I had the pleasure to be the first-ever Macedonian Global Teen Leader + Princess Diana Award Recipient, hopefully opening the door for many more to come.
Last but not least, I proved to myself (and my mum!) that miracles really happen when you allow to break out of the expected. It turns out that except for being a good time to reflect and relax, bridge years can be a powerful tool to change the world as well!