Thursday, September 30, 2010

Project EcoKids Imparts Climate Change Solutions to 15,000 Students

The high-pitched chatter of children drowns out all sounds in the tiny, bustling school. Driven by the promise of lunch and the lure of playtime, over 1000 kids pour out of their classrooms to race and skip towards the school gate, where a crowd is forming. Jostling to find the cause of the commotion, Mack-Mack and Cecil make their way up front – where a most unusual sight greets them.

A huge blue van, airbrushed with butandings, pawikans, dugongs and other endangered Philippine critters, is pulling into the school driveway. Onlookers pile on as the van halts, unloading six smiling adults.

Islands in a sea of children, the team cheerfully brings out numbered plastic crates, whose possible contents arouse even greater curiosity. Two more cars pull into the driveway to disgorge six more grown-ups.

Once students, these adults will soon become teachers. Today, each will come full-circle, for they are the dedicated volunteers of Project Ecokids, WWF-Philippines’ largest and most successful environmental education programme.

Finally, a Climate Change Programme for Elementary School Kids

Launched in 2008, Project Ecokids stands for environmentally-conscious kids and is the pet-project of the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). While climate change lessons are not yet fully integrated into the public school curriculum, HSBC teamed up with WWF to design and implement an education drive to teach children about climate change and the simple solutions they can adopt to prepare for its effects.

“We believe in empowering the youth to become future stewards for the environment. One good way is to make them realize that climate change is not some complex concept for grown-ups. Rather, it’s something they can understand, something they themselves can act on,” explains Project EcoKids team leader Obel Resurreccion.

Project EcoKids is the evolution of past WWF educational drives which concentrated on increasing awareness on ecosystem and endangered species protection. It draws on years of accrued experience to effectively tackle a subject long regarded as ‘too technical’ for kids. Now it is fully endorsed by the Department of Education, with further initiatives aimed at infusing climate modules directly into the school curriculum.

Since its launch, the programme has trained over 15,000 students in 50 schools throughout Luzon. Grade 3 pupils were identified as the best group to train as introduction of science-oriented subjects begins at this stage. By starting them young, these students will hopefully form environment-friendly habits and consequently live environmentally-conscious lifestyles.

Project EcoKids consists of four 60-minute modules, each delivered weekly. Climate Change is the first and explains the causes and effects of global warming and how human impacts accelerate or slow down its effects. Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy shows the various types of renewable energy sources in the Philippines and shows simple tips on how to reduce household energy consumption.

Waste Management enlightens kids about the impacts of pollution and its best solution – the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. The fourth and final week integrates all lessons into a personal roadmap to minimize each child’s consumption of resources.

Children are given a climate change workbook entitled Kid, Panahon Na! (Kid, it is time!), an interactive exercise book to make kids realize that now is the best time for climate solutions.

“The lessons are imparted unto children, but it is their parents who will feel immediate benefits,” explains Project Officer Maye Padilla. “For example, when we convince kids to lessen their electricity usage, their household bill is reduced. There’s no better teacher than experience – and positive experiences are what’s in store for our students.”

A Pool of 500 Dedicated Volunteers

A typical school tour begins when WWF’s now-famous LIFE van pulls into a school driveway. The multi-hued van, airbrushed with a plethora of endangered Philippine species, never fails to attract droves of onlookers. “Then the volunteers pile out,” says Resurreccion with a laugh. The programme relies heavily on volunteers, never in short supply due to the enthusiasm of both HSBC employees and freelancers. Almost 500 people have volunteered thus far.

Resurreccion is a nine-year veteran of WWF and has led WWF’s various environmental education drives since 2005. Along with Resurreccion are the core members of the team: Ruel Bate, Dino Calderon, Dada Macusi and Maye Padilla.

The project is unique for being fully interactive and wholly immersive. Children are given opportunities to engage in role-playing, song and dance skits, arts and crafts, word games and math challenges. So aside from learning the actual lessons, children also come to realize that taking care of the environment is fun. “Masaya pala ang pagtulong sa kalikasan!” says a happy third-grader.

The results of the drive have been very encouraging: in one section of the T. Paez elementary school, climate change awareness levels doubled from 42% to 84% after four sessions. Shares Resurreccion, “When we first taught at the San Jose Elementary School in Makati, we were ushered into an AVR with over a hundred incandescent bulbs. After teaching them our four modules, we came back to find every single incandescent bulb replaced with energy-saving CFLs!”

Resurreccion echoes the undying passion and dedication of the project volunteers, many of whom take leaves off from work. One volunteer was inspired enough to shift college courses – from science to education. While touring with the team, he apparently found his true calling.

* * *

Back at the elementary school, classrooms again brim with the laughter of students. Led by the six volunteers, 200 children watch a charade staged by their own classmates. Mack-Mack and Cecil, now sporting elaborate costumes, attempt – hilariously – to act as carbon dioxide emissions covering planet Earth. Both the crowd and the adults, including elementary school teachers, roar with delight. Another day, another batch of children successfully inculcated with climate change solutions.

Adds Resurreccion, “We hope that the success of Project EcoKids can be replicated in other areas – especially outside Metro Manila. With the need to act on climate change becoming more and more crucial, we just can’t sit around any longer. It’s high time for us to train a new generation of climate warriors. Panahon na!”

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