In 1993, when Priscilla Edmonds, Principal of The Birches Pre-Primary School in Durban, had faced the lack of financial resources for the education of the children, she decided to launch a recycling programme with parents. It was a way to earn a bit of money… and it was the beginning of a 20 years story of positive change around environment in the school. The Birches is really a model of learning-by-doing for children, and it inspires more and more people around the world. Interview with Priscilla.
Why did you decide to launch a programme about sustainability in your school in 1993?
Priscilla Edmonds, Principal of The Birches Pre-Primary School: Our programme really started out because the school had limited funding. We moved on to old primary school premises and we had to create an environment of learning for pre-school. Not having anything, we had to use our resources and to gain some financial help. We started recycling, and we used our recycling moneys to develop others. It became a programme out of need, and slowly we developed with what we had.
‘Our programme really started out because the school had limited funding’
A sustainable school, what is it exactly?
We are trying to look after ourselves with very little funding from elsewhere. What we have tried to use is our own resources, whether they were resources that the land could give us, our own water, solar electricity, we try to grow things, earn a little bit of money from selling our produce. We look at our school campus as an island in the same one planet initiative. So, sustainability for us is about survival in a learning environment.
‘We look at our school campus as an island in the same one planet initiative.’
What are the main projects that you are running at the school now?
Our numeracy, literacy and life skills run through the environment. We have a demonstration no-dig garden because we practice permaculture. Every family should be growing food at home. We are looking at soil studies and we are showing children what they could do with the land. We also have a fruit forest which is a long term food gardening. At the same time we have a recycling session which generates funds. Then we also have a chicken run that supports our food, and also we can sell eggs so that children can learn about how to run a small business. It all comes together under the word ‘sustainability’.
‘It all comes together under the word ‘sustainability’.’
For you, a school is the perfect organization to involve people around environmental projects?
Because our children are very young, they often have families that get involved with what is happening at school. For me, this is the perfect time for young child to change the attitudes of indecisions in their families and the community. We do have a lot of people being involved around us!
Do you see the positive change on the children’s lives?
Very definitely! What is great to hear is when they leave our school, they do similar projects and they come back to say how much their pre-school was important in their life choices. That is what it is all about: making a difference and helping us to be sustainable through difficult times.
Could you give three words to define the spirit of the school?
Initiative, positive, life-changing. We like people to make problems into solutions, and take what they have to make it better.
What was the biggest challenge since 1993?
It has been the lack of financial support! One thing we have done is managing to get support from people who felt the same that we did.
Today, a lot of young South Africans want to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure to improve society. Could you give them a piece of advice?
Entrepreneurs are the thinkers of the future! They can look at problems and turn them into solutions. You can solve the problems of the world that way.
‘Entrepreneurs are the thinkers of the future!’