Our environment and world are precious and vital to our existence. While in the West, fancy environment-friendly initiatives are all the rage and ever so trendy, other parts of the world are in need of getting back to the basics. Concepts such as sustainability, reforestation and renovation are just some of the key notions Shanghai Roots and Shoots (SRS) is working to teach local children. As China’s first foreign non-profit NGO, SRS believes that instilling strong environmental knowledge in children can make all the difference for the future.
SRS is a branch of the Jane Goodall Institute, a global environmentalist organization founded by the eponymous Jane – a gentle primatologist whose words and actions have inspired thousands. Its mission statement is bold and simple: to inspire passion for the environment and community service in Chinese youth through sustainable education and participatory programs. They want to see “a generation of young people who will think differently about how to treat the environment on a daily basis.”
Empowering local children to embrace nature has not been, as one might expect, a case of converting them from an ‘I can’t’ attitude to an ‘I can’ attitude. But rather, it’s more like planting a seed where nothing once grew. Over the years, SRS has observed that while the current Chinese generation have their minds fixed firmly on material expansion, the same generation – now well fed and comfortably housed – is telling its children: “Go out there and get the best education you can!” SRS has argued consistently that without a component based firmly on wellbeing and care for the environment, this education will never be complete.
Despite China’s size (in land mass and population) and lack of knowledge in environmental sustainability, Tori Zwisler, SRS Chairman of the Board, is not daunted by her task. “We don’t think bigger necessarily means better,” she tells us. “All we want to do is the best we possibly can, and we want to do it forever.”
Permanence and persistence are, according to Zwisler, key. Everything from growing a forest in the desert to growing a relationship with the Inner Mongolian Forestry Commission is a long-term process that requires patience. Also important is a love and understanding of nature, something SRS works to encourage in children and communities.
Through their Organic Gardens project, for instance, SRS sends volunteer teachers to renovate neglected gardens in local schools with help from their students. “You have to prepare the city kids and say: ‘Look, this isn’t going to happen in a week, but you’ll see shoots in two weeks. Give us two months and you’ll have something you can eat,’” Zwisler explains.
Aside from teaching patience, cultivating skills and beautifying the city, the Organic Gardens project also gives Shanghai children a rare and valuable chance to get up close and personal with nature. Zwisler helped put this into historical perspective, pointing out that the Pudong Financial District used to be rice paddies not too long ago. “Kids in Shanghai are surprisingly insulated,” she comments. “Nowadays they’re unaccustomed to nature, and unaware of [what’s happening in] the rest of the country. That’s something we want to change.”
SRS is also invested in cultivating the Chinese nation. While Shanghai is their nexus, they also have offices in Beijing and Chengdu, and are working with children all over the country to accomplish the same goal. One of their largest scale endeavors – the Million Trees Project – is based in Inner Mongolia. This reforestation project seeks to reverse the spread of the desert across the farming land of native families. For RMB25, you can plant and maintain a tree via SRS to halt the march of the desert and help save the farms and livelihoods of nearby residents.
The act of creating a sustainable future in China’s environment has great potential to empower local children, improve their education and give China the possibility of a better and greener future. As Jane Goodall herself might agree, everything really is connected.
Want to get involved?
For more information on volunteering and donating check out their website here.