How 165 Elementary Graduates Are Redefining Modern Education
Author: Renee Hsieh
Translator: Alvin Lin
For this year’s 165 graduates of Bihu Elementary School, June was no longer just a celebration of their educational milestone but a declaration of their commitment towards sustainability; for, what they had planted just two months ago was not merely the seeds of 300 soapworts, but also that of their partnership and legacy with Blue Seeds that will last for years to come. What started as a mere cold call has ultimately become a social enterprise’s testament to educating our next generation of the importance of the environment and a healthy lifestyle.
Demonstrating the importance of corporate social responsibility
“Bihu Elementary School has long been a local icon for environmental protection and sustainability. They emphasize these issues in all their classes in order to convey the values of responsibility, gratitude, and giving to the students.” Starting from 2009, Bihu decided to focus on the theme of “Resource Education” to help students recognize and appreciate the value and importance of the world’s resources and the imperativeness of maintaining them in order to work towards a more sustainable world. In 2014 they also launched a “Sustainable Little Farmer” course to imbue the values of sustainability, responsibility, and gratitude to their students.
Students have also learned to make their own natural salads, waffles, and other meals, all of which can be used in everyday life, not to mention their own natural soaps and bug repellents! By using these natural products that the students made at school, not only can we give safer products to our children, but we can also teach them about the importance on using less chemical products.
Using soapwort in a war against environmental hormones
Our lives are ridden with environmental hormones, yet so many of us don’t even know what they are. Environmental hormones are like undercover spies: They enter our environment by taking the form of important hormones and replacing them, essentially rendering these hormonal functions inert. As you can imagine, this can spell all sorts of trouble. Be it through the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat – anywhere that has been exposed to chemical substances – the environmental hormones enter the food chain and ultimately enter our bodies, deteriorating our health. With over 80% of market cleaning agents filled with such chemicals, the damage done by environmental hormones is now growing faster than ever.
Blue Seeds has found an alternative to put an end to this hazard – the soapwort. The soapwort is essentially nature’s soap: A small, leafy plant with the ability to replace chemical substances, such as SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), that exist in most products. Taking only 3 months to fully mature, the soapwort foams up just like soap upon rubbing with water, and most importantly, the bubbles diffuse entirely once rinsed off, leaving no harmful residue in our ecosystem. This stark contrast drawn between environmental hormones and the soapwort served as a powerful catalyst for the students, and sparked an interest in learning more about sustainability.
As such, even while facing the blazing summer sun, the soon-to-be graduates worked together to plant their very own soapworts, proudly tagging their names on each pot. They then invited their grade five peers to join in on taking care of their plants, day after day. Through this project, not only did students learn more about nature’s very own soap, but they could feel and take pride in the magic of nature as they felt, hands on, the power of sustainable development.
“We focused this project around the theme of ‘Creating your own legacy’, and provided students with the opportunity to bear more responsibility, to reflect, and to practice proactivity – to not just recognize change, but to spark change by example.” Upon watching everyone grow throughout this project, Bihu’s principal, Lan Huimei, is confident that every single student has the ability to become a patron of this environmental movement, and to spread these crucial concepts throughout the world in their many years to come.
Leading a new movement of sustainability by example
For students, this experience was a refreshing change. As opposed to learning the importance of the environment through textbooks or talks, they were given the responsibility of observing and nurturing the development of life every step of the way – helping them foster a powerful personal connection with nature.
To help foster the unlimited potential of her students, Lan Huimei has announced proposals for numerous local projects aimed at encouraging environmental protection including the renovation of the garden of the local library to highlight eco-friendliness. She has also established a local council dedicated to planting more herbs and soapworts in the community, which will not only improve air quality and act as a natural insecticide, but also spread the message to local citizens, hopefully encouraging even more of such projects in the future.
Blue Seeds’ CEO, Stephanie Chan, used to be something of a tech mogul, having brought two multi-million telecommunications companies public. Yet, after having to gruel through five operations and having to suffer from the premature birth of her two daughters as a result of exposure to environmental hormones and transdermal toxins, she knew that this hazard could not be ignored anymore. As such, she resigned from her comfortable circles in the tech industry and embarked on her second venture into Taiwan’s agricultural industry.
It was after seeing this similar passion and devotion to service, environmental protection, and the inspiring of future generations that Stephanie was determined to start this project at Bihu. Now, Blue Seeds continues to serve as a social enterprise, promoting healthier and more sustainable products and practices, and striving to construct a safer future for all of us.