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Education and engaging young people

As part of the Faith Long-Term Plans series, today’s webinar discussed how to engage young people on environmental issues, whether in formal settings such as schools, or informally through youth groups, nature camps and eco-twinning programmes.

The speakers included Mary Bellekom from Faith in Water; Barasa Wafula, a consultant in education and sustainable development from Kenya; Anastasia Retno Pujiastuti from Pepulih, Indonesia; and Kamran Shezad from Eco Islam, UK.

You can watch a recording of the webinar by clicking the link below.

Moderator Alison Prout, Director of the International Network for Conservation and Religion (INCR) began by introducing the Faith Long-Term Plans programme as a framework for ambitious change. The Plans should resonate with theology, practice and belief and be embedded in faith, she said. The Faith Long-Term Plans have seven key areas, of which education and young people are one. Today was the second of FaithInvest’s deep dive webinars into the programme.

It takes a village to raise a child

Our first speaker was Mary Bellekom, from UK charity Faith in Water, who has worked in education since she was in her 20s and with faith schools around the world. She has been a teacher in the UK, Chile and Cameroon. Most of her projects are currently based in Uganda.

Mary said: 'Good education is layered, holistic and far reaching, and knowledge and understanding lead to conviction, respect, responsibility, action.' Mary urged faith groups to look at the administration behind every school. How sound is the administration? How sustainable is the school?

She stressed that an entire community of people must interact with children so they can grow in a safe and healthy environment – it really does 'take a village' to raise a child.

Investing in youth is the wisest form of investment

Barasa Wafula spoke on promoting values-based education for sustainable development. Barasa has nurtured a career in teaching and sustainable development spanning 20 years, and believes wholeheartedly in the integration of faith values into the school curriculum.

Barasa identified ten values, including faith, respect, peace, stewardship, accountability and honesty, that should be integrated in the curriculum. He said: 'Investing in youth is the wisest form of investment because it guarantees a more sustainable future.'

When action is aligned to faith values, it often becomes a lifelong commitment, and that is why Barasa has been involved in setting up care creation committees in schools to lead conservation initiatives, developing school environmental policy that leads to ownership of the programme by all stakeholders and allows greater participation, developing advocacy and awareness creation campaigns, and networking and forming partnerships with government agencies responsible for education and the environment.

Barasa was very clear in stating that a whole school approach is important. Everyone should be brought on board because 'the environment is all of us'. This approach leads to ownership of the whole programme. He also stressed that a partnership with the Ministry of Education in each country is mandatory. The Government’s willingness to partner is crucial for the success of long-term plans as they relate to young people. Continuous teacher training is also key, so that educators have the relevant knowledge and skills.

Barasa champions 'environmental action learning', an approach that challenges students to get involved with sustainable projects, helps them to appreciate the environment and its benefits, and promotes a desire to care for the natural world.

Outside of school, youth groups, neighbourhood projects, scouts, places of worship and other informal places of education can be vital assets in promoting values-based education for sustainable development.

'Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk'

Karam Shezad from Eco-Islam in the UK spoke next on the need to ensure that education on the environment is tailored according to the age and motivation of young people. We must make sure that students are not lumped into a single bracket, he said.

He advised faith leaders and educators to work out which areas they wish to focus on, because climate change is such a big area, and to break down environmental issues so they aren’t too difficult to understand.

There is a danger in assuming that all young people are interested in climate action. Karam pointed out that there are millions of engaged young people, but there are also millions who take a more apathetic approach, and it’s important to understand the cultures and backgrounds that they come from and what drives this sense of apathy.

Karam said: 'Preaching and throwing scriptures at young people doesn’t have the same authority as it does with older generations. We want to see our faith leaders walking the walk not just talking the talk. Young people pick up on hypocrisy very quickly, and there’s no point in preaching from the pulpit if it isn’t backed up by action.'

We are guided by faith values

Anastasia Retno Pujiastuti from Pepulih, an organisation that works to offer environmental education to faith groups in Indonesia and works with grassroots communities, spoke on how her organisation raises awareness, and encourages commitment to the following programmes: Green Culture for Green Water, Green Energy, Green Waste, Green Planting, Green Building, Green Village and Green Schools.

Anastaisia said: 'We are guided by faith values, the networks we have built and the Sustainable Development Goals.'

Through the work of Pepulih, a School for Water Day has been established, plus a course for childcare professionals and WASH training for teachers, so that water and hygiene issues become integral to their thinking. WASH programmes have also been established for public schools in slum areas of Jakarta and for Sunday schools that cater for children who are not in school or where school facilities are not available, and a programme has been designed for street children to learn about hygiene and handwashing.

In response to the pandemic, Pepulih has formed links with three universities to develop online training courses, and looks forward to continuing her outreach programme.

Educating girls transforms communities

The final presentation was a film by Faith in Water which explored the importance of educating women, girls, men, boys and faith leaders in menstrual health and hygiene.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at least 1.5 billion learners have been affected by school closures, according to UNICEF, and 850 million had had their education disrupted. Many, mostly girls, will never return to school.

Mary said: 'Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world. Faith in Water has specialised in menstrual health and hygiene management because missing school because of periods is a significant barrier to education for young women and has a huge impact on their future prospects as adults.'

In Uganda, only two thirds of girls complete primary school, and this is common across many counties in Africa. Educated girls are less likely to die in childbirth, become teenage brides or mothers, and their children are more likely to live past their first birthdays.

Faith in Water took a three pronged approach to dealing with the dearth of education around menstruation in schools, focussing on providing accurate information, improving sanitation facilities and providing sanitary products, and challenging attitudes. There is still a great deal of stigma around menstruation and the shame and embarrassment that can accompany this natural biological function has a corrosive effect on girls’ sense of wellbeing.

The film emphasised that: 'Children need to understand what is happening to their bodies – it is natural, normal and nothing to be ashamed of.' Faith in Water's programme emphasised the importance of involving faith leaders, faith based women’s and youth groups, and fathers and boys in the education process.

Faith in Water also trained pupils in making reusable sanitary pads, as well as improved school washing and sanitation facilities, and engaging parents. It trained faith leaders through three workshops for three faith groups, which had a huge impact in breaking the silence on menstruation. This became particularly apparent when male faith leaders started talking about menstruation in public.

A massive 99% of women and 88% of men said that their attitudes towards menstruation had improved. And only 12% of girls said they missed school regularly due to their period, compared to 48% at the start of the project. This project demonstrated how the faiths could serve their female pupils by teaching menstrual health and hygiene to boys and girls, and in the process improve the lives of girls all over the world.


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