Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Children for the planet

On the occasion of the Cairo Climate Talks, Nesmahar Sayed finds out how the world's children are saving the planet

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Felix withKofi Annan; children planting trees; SherineMahmoud (left)

"The world is not ours. We just live in it, temporarily that is. What is going to happen in 60 or 70 or even 100 years from now?" This was a question that Mariam Reda, a student, asked at the recent Cairo Climate Talks (CCT).

The CCT is a series of monthly events that started in December 2011 and is held in cooperation with the German embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Deutsche Gesellschaft f≥Ýr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Egyptian-German High Level Joint Committee for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency and Environmental Protection (JCEE).

To help the environment and inspire others to do so too, the German School in Alexandria distributed student mission statements concerning the environment during the CCT celebration that took place in the DAAD garden. "Each year, we use millions of acres of trees to produce paper, and in the same year we throw away millions of tons of paper. This means that recycling is a must," Reda said.

She said that she and other students hope to make a difference and help others to realise the importance of the environment. In doing so, the students had put special bins in classrooms, sold used paper “ê" one recycling company pays LE700 for a ton of paper “ê" and used the money to buy solar panels for LE5,000 to guarantee cleaner energy.

Sixteen-year-old Sherine Mahmoud told Al-Ahram Weekly that she had participated in a workshop during the summer vacation at school. "We made paper from recycled newspapers. Natural materials can also be used to produce kids' toys," Mahmoud said.

Mrs Malahias, headmistress of the kindergarten at the German school in Dokki, said that they had started a project about the environment at age four because they had found that Egyptian children were not very aware of the environment. Learning about plants, trees and animals took place in the schoolyard, she said. "We have planted a tree in the schoolyard in which bats live, and when its flowers open it produces a material like cotton."

The children are able to learn that trees are homes for bats and that plants produce cotton. The children's responses were clear in their drawings of trees, animals, birds and the water-cycle, she said.

However, perhaps the highlight of the CCT events was the showing of a documentary film directed by German director Henriette Bornkamm that showed how children from around the world are the seeds of change. In the documentary, Felix Finkbeiner, 11, says that "because I'll live longer than you" it is important that we all start caring about the environment now.

Felix is standing at the United Nations in Geneva in front of world leaders and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. He is wearing a T-shirt with "plant the planet“ê¶ trees for climate justice" written on it.

In his speech he says the "future is in our hands" and refers to the late environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai, who received the Nobel Prize and was responsible for planting 30 million trees. Meanwhile, in Nairobi Fardosa Ali, 14, a presenter on local radio, is talking about women's issues. "If you know yourself, no one can change you," she says. Fardosa, who dreams of studying law, received a grant to study at an international school.

Felix was eager to visit Africa, and he met Fardosa in her homeland, and she showed him the poverty in her neighbourhood. "Hunger can make you do anything in order to find food," she said. Fardosa took Felix to the radio station and interviewed him about environmental issues. The next day, 1,000 children were at the school to meet Felix, who invited Fardosa to join him in his campaign. She finds a link between hunger and environmental issues and runs the campaign in Nairobi.

In Erbil in Iraq, Roman Kamaran sends an e-mail to Felix. Roman's father, killed in a terror attack, used to tell him that "violence destroys people on the inside." He talked to Felix about his initiative to talk to families about domestic violence and about the way children are treated at home. He tells them to talk to their parents and say "dad, don't hit me, just talk to me".

Roman found many families that wanted to talk to him. "I promise to plant more than one thousand trees with my own hands and three thousand when I grow up," he says. However, he is disappointed because the children in his neighbourhood refuse to plant trees in fear of terror attacks. "I feel sorry, first for my idea and then for myself," Roman tells Felix in the film.

After Felix's speech at the UN, he spoke to Mattaie for the first and last time. She told him that he had her moral support. In 2011, "we children officially inherited Wangari Maathai's legacy," Felix says at the end of the film.

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