`MAGIC EYES' barge program
The Prem Center `Magic Eyes' Barge Program is an outdoor
experiential environmental education program,
a self sustaining part of the Prem Tinsulanonda Center
for International Education. Aboard the barge, children learn valuable lessons, which they take home to put into practice. Michael Jones reports from the UK
It is possible to shower effectively in three minutes, and taking a five-minute shower uses half as much water as taking a bath. So what? ``So plenty!'' will be your reply after you have spent a short time on a remarkable barge, sailing on the Chao Phraya River.
The Prem Center's `Magic Eyes' Barge Program offers children from schools in Thailand and beyond a unique opportunity to study the river's delicate ecology and diverse wildlife at first hand, and understand the impact their own actions can have in either destroying or preserving our environment.
I was fortunate enough to spend a morning sailing on the river with children from the New International School of Thailand (Nist), find out about how the barge program operates, and see the children and staff working together. I came away with a host of positive impressions, and particularly a small vision of how people working together can make a huge difference to preserving the planet.
The boat is a 20-metre converted teak rice barge, and is literally the `flagship' of the Prem Center for International Education, based in Chiang Mai. Thai architect, ML Tridosyuth Devakul founded the Center, and his motivation for renovating the barge came from a desire that children and young people would experience the Chao Phraya River.
By meeting people working on the river, and communities who live on it's banks, he hoped that students would understand how the river shapes human lives, and how we have come to rely on it for our livelihoods. This also involves developing an understanding of how we all need water and how our own behavior can impact either positively or negatively on this delicate environment.
These are very lofty ambitions, but do they translate into practical activities that leave a lasting impression on children's minds, and influence how they behave? The answer is an emphatic `Yes!'
As I was helped aboard the boat small groups of 10 -year -old children from Nist were engaged in an activity looking at the beak of the Asian open-bill stork. No, this was not a university-style biology lecture, but a fun experiential activity where the children were using different types of tools, including tweezers, spoons and tongs, to try and pick up grains and snail shells.
By reporting back on their findings, the adults were able to guide the children to see how different the shape and sizes of birds' beaks have evolved for feeding on different plants and creatures.
The children had no problem understanding the relevance of this activity. Ceibhionn explained: ``Yesterday, we went looking for little animals living on the water hyacinths. We found worms and crabs and leeches. But what was most exciting was that we saw hundreds of storks, which were feeding on apple snails. They have special beaks so they can eat the snails.''
Satidev linked this to human activity. ``We must help to keep the river clean. If the water becomes polluted, then the plants suffer, the snails die, and the storks will have no food.''
The children had spent the night on the barge, and clearly relished the experience of working together to keep the boat clean, preparing and cooking food, and even taking turns to help steer the boat.
The barge can only hold a certain amount of water for each trip, and one of the first things the children learn is ways to save water. Simple things, like only filling your glass with as much water as you want to drink, are activities that have an immediate impact on everyone's thinking and actions, both on the boat and at home. Gradually the children learn just what a precious resource clean water is.
This is where information about time spent in the shower becomes very important. Arabella and Georgia told me about `The Three-Minute Shower', which had clearly made a big impact on their thinking about water.
``One of the grown ups showed us how you can take a shower in just three minutes. She had her clothes on, and didn't switch the shower on, but we could all imagine how we could save water.'' Did they manage to get clean in three minutes? Nawal asked his friend to time him, and he was in and out in five minutes. He resolves to keep his shower time at home.
Living on the barge had influenced the way children worked together. Lynda Rolph, the Prem Center's Head of Programs, explains that cooperation is the key to the barge experience.
``When children learn to work together, chores are done quickly, and can be more fun. This is the same for problem solving. Though we are looking at big issues, like sustainable living and caring for the planet as a whole, we always try and base this on activities that the children do in their everyday lives,'' Lynda said.
Groups are assigned to different tasks throughout the day, including cooperative activities like devising entertainment activities for the class after lunch (but not until everyone has washed their own dishes).
After several failed efforts Hans finally managed to get his plate clean enough to be allowed to leave it for someone else to use later. Though he complained about being sent to the back of the washing up line, he could see the point of the exercise: ``If I leave my plate dirty then the next person to use it could get a stomach upset.''
All the activities on the barge are carefully planned and evaluated by the teaching staff, who are Thai and native English speaking, and all university trained. The final activity I observed demonstrated how much just a day and a night afloat had changed the children's perspectives.
They were given the task of designing a nature reserve and to make rules for how visitors should behave, and explain the thinking behind the rules. Sure enough, preserving the water supply was a top priority, along with growing and eating local foods to cut down on the amount of packaging that would be used and thrown away.
Just before I climbed overboard I asked Zeke and Sierra what message I should take with me, and they told me to ``Reduce, reuse and recycle''. I felt our planet's future is a little more secure.
Michael Jones is a UK educational consultant and writer, and an associate educational advisor for the Village International Education Centre in the Ekamai area of Bangkok.
Information about the Prem Center's Barge Program and other environmental activities based at the Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International Education is available at www.premcenter.org/MagicEyes or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
|© The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd.
All rights reserved 2007 |
Last modified: May 3, 2007