This is how students are helping to save the planet

As UAE youth are recognised for their contributions to the environment, we take a look at what’s driving our students to step up for conservation

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When it comes to protecting our planet, it seems that ancient philosopher Aristotle said it best when he noted that ‘good habits formed at youth make all the difference’.

It’s a maxim that underpins the concept behind environmental youth group Roots and Shoots.

Founded by primatologist and anthropologist Dr Jane Goodall in 1991, the global initiative appeals to children all over the world to be the change in their society right now.

As Dr Jane came to Abu Dhabi to honour the efforts of 12 national schools at a recent awards ceremony, it seems that the UAE’s students are full of bright ideas for the future – from sustainable style to novel ideas for repurposing old books.

Young eco-warriors

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“We’re helping the environment by making things out of recycled materials, like bottle caps and planting vegetables,” explains Raooul Balachandran, a 12-year-old student at Raha International School, one of the schools singled out for its environmental contributions.

Together with his classmates, Raooul participates in the school’s Taking Action Club. For their first project, the students made and sold flowerpots from bottle caps, using the proceeds to plant a vegetable garden and creating a self-sustaining cycle of good deeds.

“We make all the decisions of what we want to do,” classmate Harry McCleod, 10, tells us. “Most children in our school are now bringing reusable containers and bottles because of the club.”

For the students at Sheikh Zayed Private Girls Academy, it was the problem of old school books that gave them a bright idea.

“Instead of throwing away our school books at the end of the year, we collected them all together to make works of art,” Fatima Abed Al Naser, 14, says. “This year is the Year of Zayed, and we wanted to follow in his footsteps. Even little actions can make a huge change.”

But for Fatima, it’s not just about the creative side that drives the school’s efforts; it’s all about ensuring that her younger peers get the message, too.

“We need a lot more awareness for our younger generation,” she reflects. “Students today hear about climate change, but they don’t connect it to anything; they don’t think it’s real. We need to provide more opportunities for them to understand it.”

Developing understanding

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Awareness and understanding are exactly the core values at the heart of the growing Roots and Shoots movement.

For NYUAD student Kate Melville, who became involved with Roots and Shoots when she joined the university, when it comes to the environment, it’s the parents that need to start listening to their kids on that score: “The thing that comes up over and over is that it is so much easier to target the young and have them teach their parents – this is the only way we can see change happen.

“People here need to be more aware,” she continues. “We have one of the largest carbon and waste footprints, and we use more water than almost anywhere else in the world. Step one is to realise why that might be an issue, and after that we need to start making the changes. It needs to become the norm.”

To find out more about Roots and Shoots, visit: rootsandshoots.ae

Future stories 

It’s time for youngsters to have their say. So what do UAE youth want to see develop here on an environmental level?

“The fuel that we use to power our cars creates carbon dioxide, and that’s really bad for the environment. I think we need to use more renewable sources of energy, like solar power or geothermal energy.” – Harry McCleod, 10, Raha International School

“I hope that people adopt a more sustainable lifestyle – like the cars we use every day, how much water we use and how we live our everyday lives.” – Reem Khalid, 16, Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls

“The UAE is still a new country, and I’d like to see more infrastructure develop in terms of the environment. For example, at the moment in Abu Dhabi, we can’t recycle glass containers as a processing plant doesn’t exist here yet.” – Kate Melville, 22, NYUAD

WORDS Camille Hogg

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