Where do the Children Play?
I watched as the children used their hands and touched the earth, moving soil through their fingers and into the black polyethylene bags, the pile of soil growing smaller as each bag is filled to the brim to grow new forests from the hands of the young. Parents, mothers and fathers sat by their children moving dirt with their hands and chatting. “This is a value we need to teach the young, to work with the earth, to grow plants I come from Buguias a farming town and yet my children know very little of the earth” –this was something I heard from several mothers as they worked on potting soil with their children. Surprising considering their roots from the more remote parts of the Cordillera range, these were people from the mountains and yet it seemed the mountains had been taken out of the people. Trees and other plants were a mystery, soil was just considered as dirt to be washed off, and grey was prized over green. It is no wonder our schools have become such monstrosities where light is artificial and open space is something we talk of in books and a vivid imagination.
Plugged in and out of touch with the natural world –even in the more remote regions this was becoming the norm for many children, the concept of play was no longer running outside under the trees or jumping into a clean cold stream but sitting inside a dark room swiping at the screen of a tablet or smart phone. This was play today. Even the parents had adopted to this preferring to keep their kids within the safety of their homes than letting them explore the outside world –but then there was also the loss of the outdoors as the green space that we knew and the creation of the grey spaces of soot and dust that had replaced the green.
About 10 years ago I worked in an Ayta village where every child of 5 and up could identify over 200 species of plants and even name their uses, today many of the children can probably name more of the cartoon characters on TV rather than the plants and insects in their backyard. Still today, sending kids outside to play is becoming increasingly difficult. Computer, television, video games, smart phones, the Internet now compete for their time but it is also parent’s fears of traffic, strangers, and insects such as dengue carrying mosquitos and diarrhea inducing parasites that keep our children indoors. And the schools assign more and more paperwork and chalk talk that the outdoor classroom has been all but forgotten.
In late 2011 and throughout 2012 our organization the Cordillera Conservation Trust started a program called the Roots and Shoots Nursery Project –the main objective of which was to assist in our Forest Building efforts in the Cordillera Region by building nurseries in remote elementary schools all over the mountains. By the end of 2012 we had 21 nurseries throughout Benguet in some of the most beautiful ecosystems our mountains had to offer.
Last September 13, 2013 we heard back from the 21 schools and came up with a surprising finding, not only were the schools producing their own seedlings for their surrounding forests but even more importantly we had created an entire value chain that far extended outside of our initial objective. We were getting people –children, mothers, fathers, teachers – outside. The Roots and Shoots Nurseries became living laboratories, as one of the Principals described it, places of exploration similar to their Lakbay Aral –only they only had to step outside the classroom door to get there. Another Principal described as a ‘good thing’ that some of the seedlings were being stolen from their nursery and described how it had changed the values of members of their community seeing the value in the forests around them. This was the unquantifiable value of the Roots and Shoots Project –curing the nature deficit disorder and moving people from seeing nature simply as a utilitarian space to be used and abused to a place of play and enjoyment –a value that is commonly lost in our drive to create something better for our families. And we found the perfect conduit for this mechanism of change and value formation through the schools that we now work with. Like the nurseries the children are the seeds, whose environmental values we nurture for the future.
Hours later a structure had been built, teachers and parents worked with the earth and built a nursery for the Students of SPED Center in La Trinidad –this was to be the first of the 30 schools we were building nurseries in 2013, by the end of the year we would have expanded Roots and Shoots from the 21 nurseries of 2012 to 51 nurseries in 2013 in not only Benguet but also Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya, our hope is that these do not only supply seeds for the future forests but create spaces and reasons for the schools to put down the chalk and paper, step outside under the sunlight, and let the children play.
In 2014 we aim to build 45 new nurseries in the Cordillera and build our 100th Roots and Shoots nursery by the end of the year.
Complete list of Roots and Shoots Schools:
|Town||Ecosystem||Significant Ecological Area||Number of Roots and Shoots Nurseries|
|Lebbeng, Tawangan, Kabayan||Mossy/Pine||Mt. Pulag||1|
|Mt. Pulag Elementary School||Mossy/Pine||Mt. Pulag||1|
|Bashoy, Kabayn||Mossy/Pine||Mt. Pulag||1|
|Bakun Central||Pine||Mt Kabunyan||1|
|Domolpos, Itogon||Pine||Mt. Ugo||1|
|Uling, Itogon||Pine||Mt. Ugo||1|
|Tinungdan, Itogon||Pine||Mt. Ugo||1|
|Mangisi||Pine||Mt. Pack/Mt. Komkompol||1|
|Bakian||Pine||Mt. Pack/Mt. Komkompol||1|
|Ekip, Naswak||Pine||Mt. Pack/Mt. Komkompol||1|
|Bukig, Natcak||Dipterocarp||Mt. Pulag||1|
|Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya|
|Ambaguio, Nueva Vizcaya|