Thursday 22 August 2013

Greenest School on Earth - right here in Ubud, Bali

Ubud is full of surprises. Even without trying (and I'm really not) you come into contact with inspirational people and places - like Green School. 

Green School's bamboo mothership
Imagine an environmentally friendly school that has “eco” and “earthy” at its core. Now turn up the green. Make it the whole thing out of bamboo. Design it to maximise holistic learning for heart, soul and spirit, as well as body and mind. 

That's Green School, a revolutionary concept just outside Ubud, Bali, and the reigning Greenest School on Earth.

To promote green living and education, it runs free public tours every weekday at 2.45pm - actually tours start at 3pm but arriving early gives you time to grab an organic coffee (I can recommend the iced mochas) from F.R.E.A.K, a zero-waste cafe near the school entrance set up by two parents to sell Balinese coffee grown in the Kintamani mountains. 

Our triple-latte-sipping guide, Ben Macrory, was a fast-talking New Yorker who moved “from the tiny island of Manhattan to the much larger island of Bali” when Green School opened in 2008 and has been talking about it, as head of communications, ever since. Here's Ben on the Green School story:

(You can also watch Green School founder John Hardy's TED talk, one of the most inspirational I've seen.)

What is a "green school"?
Green School is basically an international school - with about 320 students from all over the world, including 32 Balinese students and, for the first time this year, Romania, Mexico and Turkenistan, all ranging in age from pre-kindy 3-year-olds to year 12 adolescents - where everything is designed to be sustainable, "green" and low-impact. 

Open-air meeting rooms
Eighty per cent of Green School's power comes from its solar farm; when a new vortex-power project (a form of hydro-power, pretty cool) is up and running, the school will go entirely off-grid. 

The school grows its own food, for student and staff lunches, in permaculture gardens. It has a raw food cafe. The toilets are composting. Every class plants, harvests and cooks its own crop of Balinese rice each year. Of course it's all organic - neem oil is used as a biopesticide. Even the fences are green: plant a stick in the ground around here and Bali's rich, volcanic soil turns it into a living thing. 

There are ongoing conservation projects too: we see an aviary that's a temporary home to hornbills and endangered Bali starlings being bred here by the Begawan Foundation before they're released into the wild.

Green School kindergarten
Bamboo architecture
One of the most impressive things about Green School is that it's built from local, natural, renewable materials - particularly bamboo. 

Bamboo classroom
The classrooms are open-air with high ceilings and bamboo furniture as curvaceous as it is comfortable (and nothing like those clunky bamboo-frame couches that inhabit holiday shacks around the world). Put simply: they're naturally beautiful. 

The curriculum teaches reading, writing and arithmetic - and so much more. We pass an aquaculture pond built by a year 6 class. And a traditional Balinese mud-wrestling area - where kids can also play in the mud in their swimming costumes, to connect with the earth. 

Hands-on learning crystal
There’s a yoga studio, a healing circle around a massive block of smoky quartz crystal, a gift to the school. “We have meditation circles here, and the kindy kids come here for their teddy bear tea parties,” says Ben. 

More than a "hippie school in the jungle"
Like any school, Green School has facilities: a sports field, a computer room, a library. There’s a strong focus on developing entrepreneurial skills. 

It’s also a showcase for bamboo designs. “One of our goals here is to spread the gospel of bamboo, or promote the bamboo revolution,” says Ben. 

A river runs through it
Our last stop is the Ayung River, where we cross an exquisitely elegant bamboo bridge to look at the school's deep, green natural swimming pool on the other side. Locals bathe nearby, nature leaps back into view.

The tour ends at the main building on campus, the massive Heart of School. "There’s seven kilometres of bamboo in this place," says Ben. John Hardy describes it in his TED talk as a "bamboo cathedral": a cathedral to green, and to green education.

Green School is an “earth ship” in the truest sense: made of the earth, from local, sustainably grown and fairly harvested bamboo, sailing across it with the least environmental impact possible, transporting everyone - students, teachers, parents, tourists and anyone else fortunate enough to come into contact with it - to a greener and infinitely richer future. 

Just spending a couple of hours there made me want to be a pre-kindy kid again, so I could move to Bali and learn about sustainability (and other things) in an open-air bamboo classroom. 

But until I can find a time machine to take me back to me, aged 3, I’ll shout from Green School’s bamboo-clad rooftops: support Green School, build more like it, sponsor an Indonesian student, do a free tour when you're next in Bali. Vive la bamboo revolution!

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