The Guardian

The Guardian 2 Dec 2019

An army of Greta Thunbergs: one mother's mission

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Melanie Harwood is an education entrepreneur and self-styled 'disruptor', who has partnered with the United Nations to educate teachers about climate change. The Guardian's Richard Sprenger joined her on a trip to Dubai, to witness her unorthodox approach first hand


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Do you think you're making as many enemies as friends doing all this?
Oh, loads of enemies, it's absolutely delicious.
Come on, let's go. I love it.
With the global climate emergency now firmly in the headlines and children engaged in environmentalism
like never before, attention has spread to what the world's schools
can do to better equip the leaders of tomorrow.
We children are doing this to wake the adults up.
She never loses hope, she doesn't give up.
Melanie Harwood is an education entrepreneur with a grand plan to revolutionise teaching.
Her organisation, eduCCate Global, is spreading the United Nations climate change curriculum globally.
Our mission is to get an eduCCate Global climate change teacher
accredited by the UN into every classroom,
every school, everywhere throughout the world.
Teachers throughout the world are sharing this on their social media,
it's just spreading everywhere.
I followed Melanie on a trip to the oil-rich Middle East
to see if her plan holds water.
But my journey began in far more ordinary surroundings.
Oh my God!
So, I'm as mad as a box of frogs.
I'd better put my bloody seat belt on or else I'm going to be in a lot of trouble, aren't I?
We really want to make sure that we're delivering a curriculum globally,
that is preparing this next generation for what's coming.
Does she ever stop? – No.
Even at bed you say, I'm just going to sleep and then you lie down and then I come in,
and you're still in your phone like messaging people, or something.
Are you creating an army of Greta Thunbergs?
Yes, please.
These are the lavender fields in Hitchin.
This is a result of climate change.
They couldn't farm this at all, the soil is just not viable
but it works for lavender.
Come on then, let's go, let's go.
Bring the dog.
Climate change was the elephant in the room.
– Yeah.
So, I had the idea of creating a cross- curricular climate curriculum
but I knew how hard it is to get into schools.
I cannot look my daughter in the eye and not have done anything.
The more you educate every child, every teacher, those children …
Teachers don't just teach children, they teach indirectly,
they teach entire communities.
What do you think about Greta Thunberg?
I think she's a great influence on people and I saw on Instagram
people saying how people have been copying her but in a way that's a good thing
because we all need to be more like her.
I've never had somebody message me this much
because you just message me like crazy …
– You are the one who messages me!
No, you're lying.
– 67 I had!
No, not me.
– You were harassing me!
No … I might.
If you don't get under people's skin …
– Well, they can ignore you, can't they?
Yeah.
And if you keep harassing people, for want of a better word,
Then you're harder to dismiss.
Absolutely.
We need those leaders to come and help us get out into the world.
The United Arab Emirates might seem an odd destination to find such a leader.
Human rights issues are widely reported and personal freedoms restricted
but as an autocracy, it is perhaps well placed to set long-term sustainability goals.
The reason why we're here on this morning is to plant trees together.
I know Greta Thunberg is out there championing the cause and staying out of school.
I want our children to be in school.
I want our children to learn from the adults around them
that they took care for the environment.
When everything is falling apart, every one of us have to pick up the pieces.
Asha Alexander is the principal of the kindergarten starters,
an international primary school of over 5,000 students
based in Dubai.
I joined Asha along with 40 local organisations at a tree-planting event
she had organised in the desert.
It's sort of an odd thing, isn't it? Planting trees in the desert.
Surely it can't support a forest.
Nobody's tried and I'm going to try.
It's not about the tree planting. If that seed is planted in their minds,
in their hearts and they're moved, then there's plenty of hope out there.
I guess before she arrived, children probably didn't feel they had any power.
That's great.
One, two, three!
Trees!
Back at Asha's school, a familiar face arrives.
Good morning!
Hello!
Welcome to Dubai.
It's lovely and warm, isn't it?
It is lovely and warm, who knew?
Who knew?
We've never seen each other before.
Good morning, everybody!
The reason we are here is to be working together, building a new curriculum for the world.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima.
We need to find out if this tree has any medic inal qualities to it
because, I mean, really the plants are medicine, aren't they?
They are going to help us fix our world.
Melanie's here with the delegation of education specialists from a progressive London borough.
This is the world leader, it's the first school in the world that
every teacher in every classroom is an eduCCate Global climate change teacher.
We've come to Dubai to bring this magic back to Hammersmith and Fulham.
We want to take it back to the UK and then globally.
A lot of us tend to waste water, how do we save water?
I'd heard a great deal so far about planting trees and avoiding plastics
but I was keen to see children being taught not what to think
but how to think.
The robotics lab.
Good morning, everybody!
Good morning!
There's nothing worse.
That's amazing! Who's next? What's next?
It's amazing! Absolutely amazing.
That can print food?
Yes.
Amazing, this is incredible.
If everyone in the world can contribute with us, we can change the world.
Wow.
Has everybody here heard of Greta Thunberg?
Yes.
All of you?
Yes.
And has she inspired all of you?
Yes.
So, do you think that you would have the courage that she has to stand up?
I hope so, I hope so.
Thank you very, very much everybody.
I mean, literally what we've taught our kids, I think we wouldn't have learned in the next 20, 30 years.
The choice of being ignorant was what I had chosen
and now she's educating me, I didn't know what carbon footprint was …
Every student in KGS is a Greta in some way.
You're going to make me cry, you better stop now.
The most profound thing for me to do was meeting the parents.
Parents telling me that their children have changed their lives and
their own understanding of climate change and then the parents telling that
they've done the climate change course.
I was totally blown away.
Dubai, of course, itself is an interesting place to come, right?
It has one of the biggest carbon footprints of all cities across the world.
You see the traffic on the roads, you see the air-conditioning units, you see the indoor ski slope …
We are not sustainable. None of us. No country in the developed world
is sustainable.
You know, we are writing cheques that our planet can't cash.
So, to be honest, for us to have the hump and say, 'Well, how dare Dubai?',
how dare we?
I think we all have to learn from each other and we all have to buck up.
So, he's very important?
This is Melanie Harwood. – Good morning, pleased to meet you.
We just can't wait to tell you all that we've been doing.
The next day, Emirati education dignitaries arrived for a Climate Change conference.
Kicking things off, 202 children singing the school's new climate crisis anthem.
I need to take you with me to COP25
so that you can meet Greta Thunberg.
We will have to ask your mum.
Do you think those people are going to listen to you?
Do you think they're going to listen to you?
Why should they listen to you?
Just because if they don't listen to me, the climate change will not stop.
OK.
What is it that you can do?
Spread my message …
Spread your message … how?
How are you going to spread your message?
By telling the message all over the world.
And going to the Philippines and taking about this.
Philippines? OK.
So they can also know.
Are you aware about anything that you saw in the Philippines which you are worried about?
Were they cutting the trees, were they wasting water in the Philippines … ?
Did you see anything like that?
I saw my sister shooting a water gun at me.
A water gun needs water, and Donna wasted water on my T-shirt.
She wasted water on your T-shirt? That's sad.
Say trees!
Trees!
We talked a lot about finding the next Greta Thunberg,
there seems to be a lot of pressure suddenly on this six-year-old.
I mean, at this school, every child is a Greta Thunberg here.
I don't think you quite realise …
I think that the schools where we have these eduCCate Global climate change teachers …
amazing things are happening.
We've got to go back home and go and see what's going on there.
It's pretty wild, it's so exciting.
I'm still left wondering how much of the hype is hyperbole but the enthusiasm is infectious.
Look at the sun going down in that city!
That skyline!
Melanie's disruptive approach, a far cry from the slow-moving bureaucracy
normally associated with organisations as large as the UN, is gathering momentum.
In the face of such a fundamental crisis, I can't help but hope she succeeds.
Looking around at this skyline in this metropolis in the desert,
I mean so many of the issues that we do face are here, right?
We have the desert, we have the rising sea levels, we have the use of fossil fuels …
We are here and effectively all of our issues and angst started in the Middle East and that's
where we're going to fix it.
Perhaps there's a reason for this madness,
perhaps the reason we've come back here is to start here to heal that wound.
Now that I see what is possible when you have an army of Greta Thunbergs,
you can achieve anything.

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