As I post this blog from Mindoro Island, Philippines, we are thinking of the people in Vanuatu who were hit by tropical storm Pam. Many are without homes, water and electricity now. Subsistence farmers will struggle for a long time if crops were wiped out, as I know they were in some places.
Have you seen Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth? I remember being glued to the screen when I first saw it, and troubled by its powerful message. When John Hardy saw it (John is a transplanted Canadian who moved to Bali and created a successful jewelry business with his wife Cynthia), he was deeply affected. He felt that the solution lay in education and decided to do something tangible to help train young people who can lead the world towards a more sustainable future. He was also inspired by Alan Wagstaff’s design concept called “three springs” (a model for a quality living community with a school at its ‘heart’). Hardy and his wife sold their shares in their jewelry company and founded the Green School of Bali in 2008. The vision was (and is) to create a “natural, holistic, student-centred learning environment that empowers and inspires students to be creative, innovative, green leaders”. And what an inspiring place the Green School is! I think the four of us would have been quite happy to drop our bags and enroll on the spot!
Green School attracts students from all over the world who are looking for an alternative style of education, involving a positive and deliberate focus on environmental stewardship. I was impressed to learn that many families relocate to Bali, either temporarily or permanently, specifically to send their children to Green School. It offers programs from preschool to grade 12 and has about 400 students coming from something like 30 different countries (we met a few Canadians during our visit). And the administration tries to maintain a percentage of local Balinese students (presently it’s 8%).
The first thing you notice about Green School is the phenomenal bamboo architecture. John Hardy, the founder, is an artist and has a bit of a love affair with bamboo — it really is an amazing, fast-growing, strong, flexible, and beautiful building material. And in Bali, it’s locally grown, too! The school is a collection of buildings on a piece of land that has a river running through it. The central structure, known as the “Heart of School” has a phenomenal, double-helix shape and no walls. The ‘no walls’ part is central to Green School philosophy. The Heart of School houses some classrooms, open office space, meeting space, the library, and the area where students and teachers eat.
Other classrooms are scattered around the campus and have a similar airy, open, and bright feel.
But Green School is not just a collection of cool buildings, it really seems to be a community. Parents are visible on the campus and some have started businesses there such as a coffee shop, a raw food counter, and a shop with environmentally friendly, locally made products.
On their campus, there is also a project run by the Begawan Foundation to help breed and release the critically endangered Bali Starling, an endemic bird that has been almost wiped out by introduced predators. When well-known personalities such as Dr. Jane Goodall or Mr Ban Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) visit the Green School, they’ve been involved in releasing pairs of starlings. Why does Green School get attention from such celebrities? Well, it was recognized as the “Greenest School on Earth” in 2012 by the US Green Building Council. Since then, it has gotten a lot of publicity and they actually run tours each day to accommodate everyone who wants to see it.
However, we wanted more than just a glimpse at the campus — we wanted to meet some of the teachers and students, and felt we had something to offer them as well. So after some email exchanges, we had an appointment to meet Glen Chickering, the head teacher of the middle school. He saw the link between the theme of our travels and their upcoming unit on energy. We were invited to kick off the unit with a presentation. Glen then gave us a tour of the campus and shared some of his experiences with the evolution of this unique school community (he has been involved since year 1).
So we knew we’d be coming back to Green School in 2 weeks. During that time, Kaia would often remind us, “Our presentation is in 8 days — we need to get started,” or “The presentation is in 5 days, we need to work on it!” Thanks to her insistence, we actually started early and gave ourselves enough time to put it together without much stress. I need to transfer this technique to other aspects of my life (specifically report-card writing!)
Anyway, we divided our presentation into 5 sections: ecotourism (Cam), ocean health (me), sustainable transportation (Kaia), invasive species (Jake), and green energy (Cam). We showed pictures and spoke about the issues and solutions we have encountered in our travels during the past 6 months.
The students were a receptive audience and had many great questions for us. One boy asked us if we had used public transportation to travel from country to country and we had to admit that we had only done that a couple of times in Central and South America. Otherwise, we have traveled by air (leaving a massive carbon footprint in our wake). We then learned that that boy had traveled overland from the UK to Bali in order to avoid taking an airplane. It took him and his dad 59 days! Wow. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I bet they have some stories to tell about that one.
While preparing my piece on ocean health, and in particular, the problem of plastics accumulating in the oceans, I learned that a couple of middle school students at the Green School have started a “bye bye plastic bag Bali” campaign and have convinced the governor to take initial steps toward reduction. These young ladies are definitely showing the leadership that Green School founders were hoping to encourage. Anyone can sign Melati and Isabel’s petition at http://www.avaaz.org/en/bye_bye_plastic_bags_on_bali/.
As expected, we learned a lot during our visit to Green School and were inspired by what we saw there. I hope to apply some of those ideas to my life and teaching as well! A description of our visit appeared in their middle school newsletter: http://www.greenschool.org/weekly-newsletter/feb-26-2015/one-year-one-family-one-world#.VP0fZ_mUede .