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Conserving and protecting our only habitable planet is everyone’s responsibility regardless of region, race, gender, etc. However, understanding how to conserve and protect our natural environment is a prerequisite and should start during early childhood. Mr Boris Van Hecke and Ms Lien Raman, students in Education Department at Odisee University College in Belgium are not environmentalists per se, but read about environment and campaign for environmental education to young children. For a period of three months, from February to May 2018, they both visited Mururu Teacher Training College (TTC) in Western Rwanda to share experiences with their counterparts about environment protection.

Why TTC students

Both Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman study to become primary teachers just like TTCs Mururu students. “As a future teacher I believe that understanding environment protection can easily help me to teach about it once I start teaching young children”, Ms Raman said.

For Mr Van Hecke, teachers inspire and influence children’s habits and practices. “Environment is very important for the world. We read a lot of things about global warming these days. As a teacher you can teach young children to make our planet a better and safer place for us and the future generations by conserving and protecting environment”, Mr Van Hecke said.

The school environment club revived  

Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman noticed that the school already has a vegetable garden but the environment club students were not working in it, rather the school hires someone else to take care of it. Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman thought that students also need to do practices in garden making to be able to inspire their future students as well. This is they helped the club students to develop a school garden manual and to establish a school vegetable garden.
“The garden we started with our fellow students is specifically for them, they will take care of it regularly. When they start practicing just from school, they will be able to integrate environmental education when they enter their teaching career”, Mr Van Hecke said.

Nathanael Byumvuhore is a second-year student at TTC Mururu and heads the environment club made up of 58 students, 30 girls and 28 boys. He said some members were no longer active and had lost courage as they lacked enough information about environment protection.
“We used to focus on planting trees and flowers but didn’t have a holistic understanding of environment conservation and protection. The visit of Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman has boosted our commitment about environment protection as we gained new skills and knowledge”, Mr Byumvuhore said.

Ms Judace Yaranesheje studies in S4 and is also a club member. She also noticed a big change after the visit. “When we did different activities together with Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman such as planting trees and flowers, making vegetable garden, learning together about environment among other activities, we realized that we can do more, and make a difference about protecting our environment—everyone now feels enlightened and comfortable to talk about environment”, she said.

The school promises support

According to Augustin Kayishema, the Principal of TTC Mururu that comprises over 600 students, exposure to visitors with a different culture opened the students’ minds.
“They exchanged experiences and learnt a lot from one another. The environment club students learnt how to protect environment in a more broaden way, they will continue to do more environment protection related activities such as planting more trees and flowers, saving water, material recycling, as well as continue to create awareness among other students to keep our school green. We will continue to encourage them and constantly follow up their activities”, Mr Kayishema said.  

‘Kamishibai’ storytelling approach

In addition to the school garden manual and the establishment of the school garden, Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman also shared ‘Kamishibai’, a Japanese way of storytelling to raise awareness about a given topic. Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman chose specific stories on environment protection such as air pollution, water use, school garden and garbage on the street among others to broaden the understanding about environment protection among TTC students.
“We wanted to share more knowledge about the environment. We hope they will use such stories in primary schools in Rwanda”, Mr Van Hecke said.

The TTC Principal believes that teachers also gained new knowledge about this approach.
“We found Kamishibai story telling interesting. It is another teaching and learning approach that both our teachers and students (future teachers) will use in their teaching career,” Mr Kayishema pointed out.   

What they learnt from Rwanda

“Rwanda has banned plastic bags and this is something we can teach in Europe. At TTC Mururu they have a vegetable garden where they harvest vegetables for meals, whereas in Belgium we buy them from markets. In addition, the school harvests rain water from rooftops to save environment but only few schools in Belgium do this, and I think we use a lot of water in washing, cleaning…We can borrow such good practices to save money and the environment,” Mr Van Hecke observed.

Beyond environment protection

During the visit Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman learnt that there are some students at TTC Mururu who cannot afford to pay school fees and other scholastic materials because they come from poor families.
“We felt touched,” Ms Raman said. “We came up with an idea of asking our friends in Belgium if they could arrange something to support those students. Together with some volunteers including friends and family members we managed to collect over 3,000 euro (3.3 million francs) for the school. We couldn’t believe we would get such amount. The school can also use part of it in environment protection activities,” Mr Van Hecke said.

The Principal also expressed his gratitude to everyone who contributed to the fundraising.
“We’re very grateful for such charitable act. Vulnerable students will be able to pay their needs, the rest will support environment conservation and protection at our school. We are already planning to buy a 10-cubic meter water tank for rainwater harvesting from rooftops, and this will be an alternative water supply during dry season and prevent rainwater from destroying’’, Mr Kayishema said. The water tank is an addition to five existing ones of five cubic meters each.

The visit of Mr Van Hecke and Ms Raman complements VVOB multi-year programme (Leading, Teaching and Learning Together, 2017-2018)’s intentions to integrate environmental issues through supporting the development of a “green TTC”.