Talking to Children about Earth Care

Earlier this week, the Enviroschools Programme held an action-packed learning day for children in the Waikato (Aotearoa, New Zealand). The theme of the day was ‘Creating Catalysts for Change’, and I was invited to deliver workshops as well as be the keynote speaker.

In the keynote speech I wanted to empower the children so they felt able to take on the challenge of being considerate, conscious citizens. But I also really wanted to let them know that while there is important work to be done, they do not need to shoulder the entire burden. I think because of my own experiences of learning about issues and then feeling like I must solve all the problems, I wanted to make sure the children knew they would not have to do this alone.

My speech:

Kia ora koutou. Greetings to all of you.

Ngā mihi tuatahi ki ngā atua. Papatūānuku kei raro, Ranginui kei runga, me au rāua tamariki kei waenganui. Ngā mihi tuarua ki ngā mana whenua o tēnei rohe ātaahua. Me ngā mihi nui ki a koutou, ngā kaimahi, ngā kaiako, me ngātamariki mokopuna.

Greetings firstly to the Gods. Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother, below. Ranginui, the Sky Father, above. And all of their children from which the Earth was populated. Secondly, greetings to the mana whenua of this beautiful area. Thank you for letting us use this space. And of course greetings to all the staff, volunteers, teachers, and all of you kids.

Nō Ūropa ōku tūpuna. Kei Kirikiriroa tōku kāinga. Ko Camilla tōku ingoa. My family is originally from Europe, and I now live in Kirikiriroa Hamilton. My name is Camilla.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Nau mai, haere mai and welcome to what I think is going to be an amazing day! You are all going to be making, learning, and doing lots of different things, and I hope you have heaps of fun.

The theme for today is ‘Creating Catalysts for Change’. A catalyst is something that speeds something up, so a ‘catalyst for change’ is something or someone who helps speed up change… and any guess who we are talking about? YOU! 🙂

We are all here as Enviroschools and environmental organisations, and our kaupapa (reason) for today is all about how all of us can become catalysts for change to help protect our beautiful nature, and all the ecosystems on which we depend… which also just so happens to be the same ecosystems all animals, and all of life depend on as well!

There are a lot of ways we can help create change to protect Papatūānuku, nature, and our environment, and I would like to talk about three:

The first is our everyday actions and behaviours. Because all know that everything we do and every choice we make can have an impact -positive or negative- on the environment, right?

Can anyone tell me some of the everyday things we can do to look after the environment?

  • Recycling
  • Not wasting electricity
  • Not wasting water
  • Walking and cycling
  • Not dropping rubbish where it shouldn’t be.

The second thing we can do is to be an active citizen. That means taking part in activities and groups that are doing things to look after the Earth.

Raise your hand if you are part of an environment team or club, or you have done conservation work, or you are part of a group that works to look after the world, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth? (pretty much everyone raises their hand)

Another thing people can do to be active citizens is to write to people that have decision-making power, and who can change a lot of stuff. Raise your hand if you have written to people in charge to tell them what you think – maybe a local politician or MP, a company, or even your headteacher? (lots raise their hand)

Writing to people is a great way to get change happening and it is brilliant because everyone can do it; it doesn’t matter how old you are. And that is really cool because there are lots of things that only adults get to do, aren’t there? You kids aren’t the ones that buy the groceries, or choose the power company in your house. You guys don’t get to vote in elections yet.

But talking and writing to people that can make these decisions is something everyone can do, including kids! 🙂

And that brings me to the third way all of us can be ‘Catalysts for Change’: talking to people and using your voices to inspire others.

Hands up, how many of you have family or friends? (everyone raises their hands)

What about other people? Do any of you ever talk to your neighbours, someone in the supermarket, people visiting your house? (most raise their hands)

All the people in your lives, whether you see them once or every day, they are all people that might be interested in talking to you and learning about your ideas for looking after the planet.

And I have to say, the power of talking to people to inspire change cannot be overestimated! Because each time we hear something, it enters our conscious or subconscious thoughts, and then our brain thinks about it. So every time you tell your teachers about how you are growing your own veggies in your garden, or each time you remind your parents that they can recycle bottles instead of putting them in the trash, or each time you let your friends know that they need to make sure the lights and heater are off when they leave a room… all that contributes to change in the way people think and act in their environment and in the world.

I have one more thing to say, and it is pretty important. You may hear many times in your life that you kids are the ‘future generation’, that you are the future guardians of the Earth, and that what you do and how you treat the planet is really important.

I have got to say, those people are spot on. They are 100% correct.

But I also want to let you know that even though there is lots to be done to protect and restore our planet, you don’t need to do it all by yourselves: it is a team effort, and there are lots of people already doing lots of stuff!

And guess what? When I was your age, I was told the exact same thing about being ‘the future guardians of the Earth’. And do you know what else? When my parents were kids, they got told the exact same thing, too.

Each generation and each person has a responsibility to look after the planet. Not just the kids! We have all got to do what we can.

So while all of you go and do all the activities and learn all sorts of things today, and then you go back to your schools and homes and think about all the things you have learnt, and then when you go and live and act and do things in your communities… please get excited about nature and our awesome planet Earth, and share your passion with others.

I have got to warn you, sometimes it might be difficult. Sometimes you might find you have two values and they conflict with each other, or you might face obstacles and challenges – kei te pai, that is OK. It is times like that, that I try to remember a phrase that is really important in our family:

‘We do what we can’.

We try our best to live sustainability; sometimes we do pretty well, sometimes not so well, at all. But we do try our best. And we do the three things as often as possible:

  1. Behaviours and actions: doing good stuff
  2. Active citizenship: getting others to do good stuff
  3. Communicating: talking about all that god stuff.

Thank you for listening and joining in this kōrero (discussion). I hope you have heaps of fun today, and get to show your teachers and friends how creative you are, and how much you care about Papatūānuku and our planet.

Bye for now 🙂

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Guerrilla Gardening with Kids

Setting the scene

A friend of mine, Briar, co-ordinates an after-school club, Kirikiriroa Explorers, which focuses on getting kids in and engaged with nature and our local community. It is pretty grassroots-y, there are several of us that help run it, we sometimes make it up as we go along (with the help of the kids), parents can pay using TimeBank credits, and it is a pretty cool little group I am happy to be quite involved with (plus it gets my daughter out and about, too).

I was the main facilitator for several weeks this term (while Briar was away) and I had a great time sussing out what we would be doing.

One week, we went on a scavenger hunt in our local (and rather stunning) botanical gardens. The next week we went to a conservation project site to plant natives, and visited a community garden. But then the third week was extra fun: we trained the kids in guerrilla gardening, and did some guerrilla planting!

What we did

First, we got everyone ready. We put on ninja, superhero, camouflage and other disguises, and thought up secret names for everyone – just in case we got caught! 😀

Next, it was important to lay down some ground rules and discuss guerrilla gardening etiquette. We stressed the importance of only using unused/underused public land. We covered which plants were suitable, and where (no non-natives in the bush, no invasive weeds, etc.). We showed them this great video covering the top 10 rules for guerrilla gardening:

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Guerrilla Gardening Training, so the kids are responsible guerrilla gardeners!

Then we went out into the field. There were quite a few of us so the kids decided to split into two groups: some people were going to garden, and others were going to keep watch in case of approaching City Council Officials. They even made up code words, alert calls, and a Emergency Plan in case official-looking people looked like they were coming to tell us off (I feel I should add that while guerrilla gardening isn’t really allowed, in reality it is barely/rarely frowned upon, and in my opinion it is possibly one of the most peaceful, positive and beautiful kinds of resistance that we can engage in. Anyway, they had fun!).

We ended up planting 2 plum trees and about 10 edibles in a few of the nearby green spaces (edibles were marked with ribbons, so they don’t get mown).

Then we ‘returned to Base’ and prepared some seed bombs which they could take home and distribute in their own time (again, big focus was placed on where it is OK to throw different kinds of seed bombs).

All in all, a great afternoon!

www.guerrillagardening.org 

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Left to right: Captain Mustache, Sparkly Cupcake (yes, that is my child and she made up that name -.-) and I, Swirly-Face.

Plastic Free July – Reflections

In July, our household attempts the Plastic Free July challenge. I can’t say the whole house (comprised of myself, my daughter, my partner, and our boarder) embraces the challenge with the same level of enthusiasm or commitment, but we do try.

There are a number of variations of the challenge, with our (ahem… my) goal to be avoiding all single-use plastic. I shall say it straight away – we were not successful. It is darn hard avoiding plastic. It is sneaky and pervasive, and sometimes it seems to just take a moment of distraction for it to find its way in.

Here are some of my reflections from the challenge:

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    Furoshiki wrapping for presents – one way to avoid plastic Sellotape and (often plastic wrapped) wrapping paper.

    It gets easier with time. This is our third year doing it, and now that many plastic free habits (started in previous years) have become part of our everyday routine, the change required for the July challenge is not as major as before.

  • There are sometimes ethical compromises. I found that sometimes going for plastic free options conflicted with other ethical factors we take into consideration when purchasing. For example, we usually buy a fair trade organic coffee but it comes in packaging containing plastic. During the challenge we bought a different (non-fair trade, non-organic) brand in a glass bottle, but this is not a change we have kept up beyond the challenge because overall for this product we prefer supporting fair trade and organic over plastic-free-ness. But we find we assess each item/conflict on a case-by-case basis, because there are often multiple considerations to factor in.
  • Not being prepared can contribute to plastic sneaking in. A number of occasions when ‘plastic happened’ was when plans changed or I wasn’t prepared. For example: leaving the house without snacks for my daughter; not doing groceries and having to use something containing plastic that was already in the cupboard/fridge from before the challenge. Having said that, I am not one for meal plans and organisation when it comes to food, and mostly I was still successful with the plastic-free lunch boxes and snacks. And even a few take-aways!

 

 

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    Tattoo plastic

    Sometimes things are more important than the challenge. For example, I am on medication and it comes in plastic packaging. I need to take the medicine, and my health comes before the challenge. Basta. Another example is one night when my partner prepared a ‘home date night’ for us which involved a film and (plastic wrapped) popcorn: I could have rejected the popcorn and avoided the plastic, but it was more important to accept his gesture. The popcorn was delicious.

  • During a plastic free challenge is not a great time to get a tattoo. I did try to say I didn’t want to wrap it up, but it was company policy to cover it before I left.
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    Plastic free meat: frozen fish, free-range eggs, tinned beef, glass jar of meat spread (I did not know that was a thing!), tinned tuna, byo container of ham.

    Plastic-free eating seems to lead to healthier eating. By eliminating plastic, suddenly lots of packaged, more processed food is eliminated. We ended up eating a lot more fresh, simple food, with less sugar, salt and other additives. Meat might be the exception to this though, see below!

  • It can get you thinking outside the box. My partner eats meat but his usual choices weren’t options during the challenge. Yes, there was some compromising on the free-range front 😦 but all in all I was very impressed at what he managed to find!
  • Being conscious of the things we buy and consume is part of ‘the solution’, but it doesn’t solve all the problems. The article Conscious Consumerism Is A Lie Here Is A Better Way To Save The World is probably one of the best articles I have read recently, and definitely puts everything into perspective. In a good way!

So how did we actually do? Well, as our boarder and my partner we ‘less actively involved’, I didn’t rigidly monitor their plastic. My daughter and I generated this much:

 

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If only I didn’t get two colds, there would have been no Lemsip sachets and only half the medicine packets! 

 

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A month worth of plastic. And almost all of it we were able to send to recycling.

Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had planned better.

Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had more energy/patience/will power.

Yes, there is plastic I could have avoided if I had more time.

But actually we tried really hard. We did our best at the time. And something I started telling my daughter when she started worrying about any plastic we happen to get, which I now also tell lot of people I meet who ask about ‘living sustainably/ethically’, and I even remind myself on a fairly regular basis:

We do what we can, when we can.

We can only do our best. And sometimes our best-at-that-time is super, and sometimes there is room to improve/learn 🙂


 

Some of the things I have found relatively easy to do in order to reduce the plastic in my life:

  • Purchase food in glass, paper, tin or no packaging whenever there is the option.
  • Not buying food that is in plastic packaging (or only buying the item occasionally).
  • Not using plastic wrap/Glad Wrap/cling film (beeswax wraps make good alternatives for sandwiches, for covering food I use a tea towel, and if all else fails I use baking paper).
  • Using a bamboo toothbrush
  • Using reusable items instead of disposables, for example cloth face wipes, handkerchiefs, menstrual products, and cloth nappies when my daughter was little.
  • Avoiding disposable items in general and especially ones that are/have plastic (straws, cotton buds, bags, cutlery, bottles, containers). For most items there are plastic-free alternatives.
  • Bringing my own containers, bags, coffee cup and/or refillable bottle.

Things I changed this July that I will be continuing throughout the year:

  • Using loose tea instead of tea bags.
  • Getting homemade soya milk from my colleague (in a glass bottle) whenever I can.
  • Making my own toothpaste.
  • Making my own deodorant (which has incidentally been the most effective deodorant I have ever used!).

There are some really great resources for going plastic-free. Some of my favourites are: