Education and learning is a well traveled friend in my life. In my 20’s I worked in an alternative school for 10 years, an innovative child – centred learning program where kids’ interests, not age, was the organising principle of the curriculum. Steiner school. Montessori, Summerhill, Preshil were all precursors for a very different approach to education. My son also attended a private “alternative” school so exploring the best ways of learning have always been an interest. Five years ago I discovered the Green School in Bali, an innovative school created in the jungle outside Ubud. Yesterday, I revisited the school interested in how it has developed over the years.
“Green school isn’t just a school-it’s a global movement to raise change-makers because our world needs us now.” John and Cynthia Hardy are the founders of Green School, jewelers by profession, they have lived in Bali for over 30 years. Hardy talks about seeing the “Inconvenient Truth” a climate change film created by Al Gore and being changed by it. In 2008 they created the Green School in their adopted homeland of Bali. The commitment is to good global citizenship and conservation and living in a sustainable way. Education of the whole person with implicit values of community and sustainability. Working with architects, a permaculturist, artists and the local community a bridge across the river connecting villages and the school was the first structure to be built. The bridge symbolic of connecting people and ideas.
Bamboo school buildings followed. An extraordinary 3 storey bamboo central hub where the Green School community gather to eat lunch together and organise the Green School world. There are 480 students now. Most are children of expats and families who come to Bali for an extended time to allow their children to attend Green School for a year. There are also scholarships for local Balinese children to attend Green School.
My memories of the school are of a very beautiful cluster of bamboo buildings in the vibrant green setting of the jungle, a cafe serving vegan food and the massive bamboo poles that support the roof of the main 3 storey hub. Each pole is a sponsorship for Green School from people like Jane Goodall and Sir Richard Branson. The school is completely off grid now and generates all its own energy needs.
This is the backdrop to my visit to the Green School and I’m excited to see it again. I book online and everything is efficient and informative. Wear walking shoes, don’t bring single use plastic bottles, bring ID. The general tour goes for around an hour and a half and costs $A20. There are also special interest tours- permaculture etc. Our little tour group gathers at the visitor centre excitedly anticipating our adventure. I wave goodbye to my lovely driver who I’ve booked for the day.
We have headphones and bamboo name tags but the tour guide speaks only in English. There are a number of very excited young bandana wearing environmentalists, a couple of Canadian educators and a group of Japanese tourists accompanied by a Japanese teacher at the school who acts as translator. And then there’s me..70, relatively unfit and secretly hiding my single use plastic water bottle in my bag ’cause I forgot to buy a reusable water bottle. Guilty.
The guide is lovely and we start the steep descent down the slope of beautifully tended vegetable gardens, a chicken coop, cows and with classrooms, open to the breeze dotted throughout. It rained heavily last night and steep paths made of mudbrick and local rock are slippery and treacherous.
Pretending I’m a mountain goat I lunge down the steps, missing a few and come to a halt at the bottom of the slope with a piece of bamboo hand- rail that came off in my hand. My bright orange dress is streaked in mud. The Japanese tourists gather round bowing and offering to help me up. My ego is shattered but nothing more serious. Onward!
I’m amazed at the level of sustainable practice at the school. Local Balinese village kids can come to Green School to learn English after their school day ends at lunchtime. The cost of tuition? 5kg of their rubbish needs to be bought to Green School for recycling. That pays for a term of tuition. About 400 local kids are learning English this way. Projects are a key component of school life. At every age kids form teams, develop a business case for Green bank of what they want to develop or build. They make a presentation to the board of Green Bank and if successful can work at the project centre to develop prototypes. The kindergarten kids were concerned about frogs not being able to scale a wall to get to ground level. They built a ladder system for the frogs to climb a wall. The primary level kids wanted chickens, so they prepared their business case, got funding and built the enclosure. Researching chicken ” husbandry” they now have a thriving business selling the eggs to local markets and the school community. Older kids have developed more efficient recycling systems and create enterprises to sell products made of recycled materials. It’s all about enterprise, problem solving, independence and sustainability.
We continue our walk down steep banks to the river where water is used to generate power for the school. We have frequent stops in conversation areas under the trees to ask questions. It’s a relaxed vibe. The sun is high now and after the rains the air is dense and steamy. I bought some tissues that are now soaked as I melt. I’ve given up on my hair in this climate and it now resembles a mammoth frizz-ball. As we sit quietly under the trees on mossy stones, one of the bandana tribe suddenly screams and jumps up shouting “Ants!!” Others follow and just as I mouth ” What ants?” I feel my well- padded legs and backside stinging as I join the whincing, stomping throng of visitors surreptitiously trying to extract ants from their underwear. The tour guide makes some remark about enjoying the good and not so good of nature and the group continues to slap their legs and quietly swear.
Onward. It’s uphill now and our little community of tourists help each other up the slippery stairs. There’s a slightly older Japanese man in the group with soft, long grey hair and kind eyes. He looks like an artist or philosopher. He speaks no English and I speak no Japanese but somehow we recognise the need to help each other climb the steps to safe ground. We hold hands and move carefully. Moments of intimacy and human kindness. Back at the Tourist Centre we bow and smile, acknowledging our gratitude and support for each other. It was a lovely tour and I’m so impressed by the continuing work of Green School and its brave, imaginative work. Other Green Schools are being built in New Zealand and South Africa. A world movement perhaps?
I head to the gate and search for where my driver Dewa has parked the black car among so many other black cars. He comes rushing towards me. My hair is stuck to my face, wet. The orange linen dress is covered in mud and fiery red welts are appearing on my legs as the ants imprinted their tattoos. ” What happened!!?” His normally placid, calm face looks confused and concerned. I tell him of my adventures which now seem very funny. As I slide into the cream leather back seat of the SUV he unpacks a freezer box in the car and produces a coconut, opened with a straw and 2 boxes of nut snacks and seaweed crackers as well as a clean, cold hand-towel to clean myself up. Now this is service!
It’s been another great day in Bali and we take the slow drive back through villages and rice paddies heading home to the resort for an afternoon swim and a little nap.