We’re Building a Nature School in Vanuatu!
Many of you may not know that I grew up on a little island in the Pacific Ocean called Vanuatu. l have lived here for more than three years now and I thought I’d give you an update on our latest mission here with the Food Matters Foundation.
Since our first film back in 2008, education has been at the forefront of what we do. We’ve done this through films, streaming channels, books, podcasts, and guided programs - to name a few. But we wanted to continue that love of education in a way that supported people from all walks of life. And we dreamed up a way to support that in our local community.
Because of coronavirus lockdowns, Vanuatu borders have been closed for nearly a year now and many people have been affected by this. It has resulted in Vanuatu being the only one of about fifteen other countries that have remained covid-free, which is a great privilege. But with the lack of tourism, a lot of the local people who used to work in the hotels, restaurants, taxi services, and tour companies are out of work and they are having to find other sources of income.
Money is scarce but in talking to the community we found out a lot of these men and women are skilled artists, carvers, gardeners, and musicians. So James and I, with the help of the Food Matters Foundation and very generous donations from the Food Matters Community, have been setting up a Nature School and Art Center where these members of the community can come and teach on all things art, culture, nature, and music. And construction is well underway!
We are leasing the land from our local village chief, as land ownership is something that stays in the hands of the villages to preserve it for future generations. Our build has begun with the construction of our Kava Bar and Eco Cafe, and now the Round House - with shelter for the fire so we can sit together and sing together. Lots of outside work has been going on too, and we’re ready to finally start work on the school.
When the idea of the nature school was first born, it was to provide mainly after-school activities for kids, spanning so many different areas. Some of these will include:
Nature art classes.
Drawing and painting.
Nutrition, food prep, and healthy eating.
Gardening and planting.
Real-life survival skills.
Music like guitar lessons and drumming lessons.
For the children that will get to go to this school, there is a vision to foster a true sense of creativity and passion. We have been inspired by the work of Sir Ken Robinson who passed away last year and who we had the privilege of interviewing for Transcendence 2. He preached that schools needed not only to broaden their curriculums but also to support teachers as creative professionals and to personalize learning by breaking large classrooms — artificial environments that invite boredom, he said — into small groups.
“Kids will take a chance,” he said in his TED Talk (which has gone down in history as the most-watched TED Talk of all time). “If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong.” But, he added, “By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”
Our vision is to create a child-led school where kids can take a chance at trying something new. Given the right tools, they will have a chance to design and create anything they want. Anything in their wildest imagination.
So often school is a place of academic achievement and students are asked to fit into a one size fits all system. This nature school, albeit an after-school activity (from 2 pm onwards every day), will harbor a sense of independence and freedom of choice taking into account who they are as individuals, what engages them, and where students can choose to work on what interests them in a Montessori-type open classroom.
A lot of the local ni-Vanuatu schools here are based on a Western teaching style with a high emphasis on traditional subjects like English and math. There’s a strong authoritarian culture in the schools where students are taught to listen and not ask questions. Classes are large and teachers are for the most part jaded by the system and overworked. As funding is tight and budgets low there is usually no room in the curriculum to focus on creativity, art, and design. This is why we think our school will be so important now in Port Vila; it can promote creativity of thinking and continue the ni-Vanuatu culture of carving, weaving, growing food, permaculture, and art.
We envisage, when this space is complete, it will not only provide further work opportunities in the creative fields, a hub and space for children to come together to learn and play, but we will also foster a space for all things nature in this beautiful country. We intend to showcase film nights on sustainability and eco-living, foster a culture of recycling and reusing, and going back to local foods and grassroots medicine to combat the rise of diabetes and heart disease.
Inspired to live a life a little more wild and free? Discover our latest series, Wild & Free: A Year on a Tropical Island, here!