At 12, Farah already knows the benefits of eating healthy. She signed up for a programme at her school in October and has since participated in several ‘green’ activities.
She learnt enough from a monthly class about organic gardening and seedling preparation to get her own portion of the home garden, on which she grows onions, tomatoes, potatoes, jasmine and rose shrubs.
Farah studies at the American School of International Academics (ASIA), one of three private schools in Lahore, and 11 nationwide, that have joined the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature Pakistan’s environment programme for schools since it was launched last year.
Teachers at these schools say that in the face of mounting environmental challenges, combined with widespread ignorance, it is essential that we arm the next generation with knowledge of Pakistan’s dwindling water supplies and rising pollution levels, and how to reverse these trends.
“Pakistan is environmentally troubled. The glaciers are melting fast. Unplanned urban development has led to a rise in pollution levels. Our water will run out in another 25 years,” says Farah Arshad, a career counsellor at the Ravi Campus branch of the City School, another member of the WWF programme. “If not now, when will we start educating our children about issues with repercussions on the environment?”
Students at the schools enrolled in the programme can participate in a variety of classes or activities. Often these involve preparing for an environment day, like Earth Day in April, when 200 students gathered at the Beaconhouse Gulraiz campus to boycott electricity use for one hour, in the company of actor Reema Khan, who is a WWF ambassador.
Nowadays, the campus is dotted with red, blue and green dustbins for the disposal of glass and plastic, paper waste and organic matter, respectively. The use of plastic bags and bottles is discouraged, and the 260 kids registered with the WWF programme try to persuade their colleagues to comply.
ASIA celebrated Earth Day with a tree planting activity at the Safari Park in Lahore. “Tree plantation is a small step but it may turn into something big tomorrow,” said Mubashir, whose 8-year-old son participated in the activity. “We may see our children inspired to pursue a career in developing technology to harness alternative sources of energy such as water, air or sunlight.”
At the City School, children are asked to bring lunch boxes from home every Tuesday so they don’t buy anything from the cafeteria, thus saving on packaging. For World Water Day, students researched the water crisis in Pakistan, and spoke about it in the school assembly.
Teachers say the activities are a great way to engage younger kids. The older kids have more substantive options. O and A Level students are offered a six-week internship where they do research on environmental challenges and participate in small-scale projects to create appliances run on alternative energy.
But with our environment under constant assault, is raising awareness in 11 private schools enough to make a difference in Pakistan? The teachers participating in the programme say that it will have a gradual benefit. “This initiative is relatively new but over time, probably another generation, it will bear results,” said one teacher at Beaconhouse.
Maleeha Habib, the WWF coordinator for the programme, said she hoped that a total of 60 schools nationwide would have joined up by the start of the next school year in September. And the WWF hopes to start working with public schools too, provided it can find corporate sponsorship, she added.
She said the schools programme complemented other WWF initiatives to spread awareness, such as an annual spelling competition that helps 100,000 primary school children learn about environmental issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2011.