“People in the country are more and more aware of the problem of plastic pollution. This is why we created our first program dedicated to the concept ‘zero waste’,” explained Petr Hindrich in an interview with FairPlanet.
The Czech surfer has lived in Bali since 2008, and in addition to surfing, he’s also looking for ways to improve Indonesians’ connection to their habitat, which is one of the most biodiverse environments in the world.
Founded six years ago, Hindrich’s organization, Greenbooks.org, originally focused on creating libraries with environmental books. Nowadays, he prepares programs for schools across Indonesia.
The world’s most biodiverse ecosystems are unprotected
FairPlanet: How did the whole project start?
Petr Hindrich: The start was spontaneous. I went on a surf trip with my friends to Sumba Island, which is two islands east of Bali. We found ourselves stuck in a small village two hours from the main road and spent over a week with the local villagers.
That’s when I realized I wanted to do something about environmental education because I saw local children surrounded by beautiful nature but they didn’t know much about it. They didn’t know how to protect him, how to appreciate him.
Indonesia has one of the most biodiverse ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial, in the world. Why don’t local children appreciate nature?
There are several reasons why they don’t even observe it. It is not common to spend free time walking outdoors or climbing mountains here. In addition, the hot climate does not help. There is also not a lot of public transport so it is not easy for them to go there. [places].
People are afraid of the unknown, and because Indonesian children and the general population don’t know much about nature, they are afraid of it.
We try to make children curious about nature and we hope they will fall in love with it. And, thereafter, they will protect him.
I believe that investing in education has the most impact because it will last for years.
Indonesia’s struggling education system
From what I know, environmental education does not exist as such in Indonesian schools. Can you describe a little more how children learn in local schools? How is the education system?
Typically, a teacher stands in front of the blackboard and talks to the students who copy their words into their notebooks. They memorize notes for the tests, so the education here is unfortunately very test-oriented.
Indonesia ranks among worst in Asia in PISA tests [tests that examine the level of text comprehension and one’s ability to apply mathematics in daily life]. The kids go to school and they like it, but they don’t learn much.
Indonesia is a developing country and the government does not really invest in education, so the teaching profession is very underpaid, especially in rural areas. The salary in these areas can drop as low as $ 50 per month, so of course teachers are not motivated to do perfectly well in school. There aren’t many teachers who are really dedicated to their work.
And, in addition, there are up to 35-40 children in a classroom. Thus, even if there is today an option for a new thematic program [a kind of curriculum in which one does not teach by subject but by topic, and more subjects can be merged to cover one topic], which is quite revolutionary, teachers have to learn to teach this way. Many of them still teach the same way as before.
The pillars of green-books.org
The philosophy of Green-Books.org is based on three main pillars. The first is eco-education, which is very interactive. Using your knowledge of how education works in Indonesia, how do you integrate your environmental programs into schools?
In general, there is no demand for environmental education. We started with the bottom-up approach. We were looking for teachers to apply for our programs. We made sure they wanted to do it because they found our programs to be beneficial. But we also had to incentivize them with motivating rewards.
At the moment we are already more connected, so at this stage we are also approaching the teachers in cooperation with the local education services.
We also try to match our programs with the national program. We will first implement it in a particular school. If it works, hopefully we can deliver it locally and maybe nationally.
You have now prepared two programs, one is the Zero Waste School Program and another is called the Single Use Plastic Free School Program. Why these subjects?
In Indonesia, plastic is quite cheap and people get everything in plastic. The general public has already started talking about plastic pollution, so it is becoming a topic here. There was a demand for it and there is already some public awareness of plastic waste.
How did you create these two programs?
At the very beginning, we had no connection and we didn’t know any teachers, we didn’t know the education system, we just knew that environmental education was necessary.
The knowledge we had from the Czech Republic told us that books were a good tool on how to introduce environmental education. We therefore obtained books on the environment and distributed them to the communities. But over time, we discovered that there isn’t a lot of reading culture in Indonesia. […] So it wasn’t very efficient and we started to develop what we called eco-activities.
Later, we grouped these activities into the first program on biodiverse conservation in the same way we developed the programs on plastic waste – from single activities.
It is now a step-by-step learning program with sixteen lessons.
The second pillar of your work is the training of local educators. Do the teachers approach you too?
Yes. Either they hear about us from their colleagues, it’s a kind of word of mouth, or they find us on social media.
At present, around 100 teachers teach these programs. How has the pandemic affected your work?
The Covid-19 pandemic is changing school attendance: half of children go to school part of the week and another half the rest of the week. This means limited time, so we need to update our programs and make them more concise.
Also, most of our activities are interactive, they include movement, games or puppet theater, songs, experiments, group work. For example, in the school zero waste program, we encourage children to start composting. Now we have to adjust all of this to the circumstances online.
Another wave of Covid has just arrived in Indonesia, and we’re back to online education, which doesn’t really work in Indonesia because not all kids have their own phones, gadgets, etc. They use their parents’ phones to get instructions from the teacher and to answer. Often they don’t have enough data to connect.
Promote a sustainable lifestyle
How do you know your business is performing?
We ask educators to give us their feedback on the activities they do. They send us pictures or videos and that’s how we see they are implementing the program.
After that, we are encouraging schools with alternatives to single-use plastics, such as reusable bottles, eco-friendly bags, water filters, zero waste launch kits including binoculars. They are motivating factors but also tools for practicing a sustainable lifestyle.
This is the third pillar of our work. We have launched a new project with a German partner specializing in behavior change and anthropology. This part of the project will therefore measure the impact with research.
What is your goal for the Green-Books.org project
We want to reach millions of children in Indonesia. Corn [in order to] intensify our activities and have such an impact that it is necessary to push environmental education from the top.