Muheza. Deep in the scenic and biologically rich mountains of the East Usambara in Muheza District, Tanga Region, primary schoolchildren are busy in their tree nurseries.
They are watering a variety of tree seedlings they would later plant in their school compound and at their homes.
They are members of an environmental club established through the Echo School programme that is revolutionising the way young people think about protecting the environment. The programme is part of a three-year climate change adaptation project known as ‘Integrated Approaches for Climate Change Adaptation being implemented in eight villages of the East Usambara. Eco Schools is a global programme, which for nearly 25 years has been empowering children to drive change and improve their environmental awareness.
The Marvera Primary School Environmental Club is just one of the six environmental clubs in the East Usambara where the project is being implemented by a group of partners.
The partners are the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), Engineering for Human Development (Ongawa), Global Climate Change Plus Initiative (GCCAT), the European Union, Muheza District Council and Obra Social laTaixa Faida Mali.
It covers Shambangeda, Mgambo-Miembeni, Kwemsoso, Kazita, Misalai, Zirai, Kwelumbizi and Kizerui villages in Misalai and Zirai in Amani Division.
The six primary schools were selected due to their proximity to the high biodiversity forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains.
Why did the project choose children? According to an article on Environmental Education for Children (Little Green Hands) appearing in the Conservation Alliance, website, there is evidence to suggest that programmes that aim at changing the conduct of children towards the environment are more likely to be successful than when adults are the target.
The Conservation Alliance is a not-for-profit non-governmental environmental organisation that brings together people and skills needed to build Africa’s capacity to conserve Eco Schools.
It is an international programme of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that was launched in Denmark in 1994.
Eco Schools concept is a growing international phenomenon that encourages young people to engage in their environment by offering them the opportunity to actively protect it. “It starts in the classroom; it expands to the school and eventually fosters change in the community at large,” Climate Change Adaptation project manager Eustack Mtui pointed out.
He said that through this programme, young people experienced a sense of achievement at being able to have a say in the environmental management policies of their schools.
At the global level, Echo Schools is being implemented in 67 countries, involving 51,000 schools and institutions, and over 19,000,000 students. It is the largest international network of teachers and students in the world.
According to Mtui, TFCG is the Eco Schools national operator for mainland Tanzania and the associate member of the Foundation for Environmental Education in Tanzania in implementing the largest global sustainable schools programme, which aims at nurturing a generation of tomorrow’s environmental conservationists at a time when forests are being depleted at a fearful rate. According to Mtui, the schools are equipping children at younger ages to grow with the love for the environment.
Evidence collected from six primary schools involved in the Echo Schools programme in the East Usambara and elsewhere around the globe suggests that programmes that aim at changing the conduct of children towards the environment are more likely to be successful than when adults are the target.
“Engendering environmental stewardship amongst children and youth in these communities is vital for the conservation of these globally unique mountain forests,” said Mtui.
The schools have produced 43,200 seedlings from nurseries established in the schools.
The project undertook training of pupils of the six primary schools on tree nursery establishment and management as well as supporting them with materials.
It also undertook training of 24 primary school teachers on how to integrate environmental education in their teaching; and how to carry out activities such as maintaining school tree nurseries.
The seedlings were planted in school areas and in the pupils’ homes. “This is a big contribution to the climate change adaptation process, according to Kazita Primary School head Augustino Semweta.
He said in an interview that they have established a task force that follows up planting and growth of the trees at the home place.
Environment teacher Simon Lucas said that before the establishment of the programme, the environmental and sanitation situation was bad.
The situation, he said, had changed because all environmental and sanitation matters had been left on the shoulders of the leaders of environmental clubs.
One of the major and unique features of the intervention is the creation of a link among teachers, school children and parents through the introduction of the Echo Schools Committee.
The chairman of the Echo Schools Committee at Marvera Primary School, Mr Adam Bakari, said the linkage that had been established between schools and the communities was bearing fruit.
There are six Eco Schools committees with 60 members for improving environment in and out of schools.
Each committee is headed by a community member, but its members include parents, teachers and schoolchildren.
Each Eco Schools committee has its own tree nursery in every school and the project has been providing technical support on the management of the nurseries (pricking out, shading, watering, root pruning as well as pests and diseases control).
The programme could be the greatest achievement is arguably the fact that it produces generation after generation of sustainable minded, environmentally conscious people.
These individuals will carry the behavioural patterns they uptake under the auspices of Eco Schools with them through life, in turn teaching the next generation the habits to make a difference.