Planetary Health Education: ASRI Kids Learn How to Keep Their Whole Earth Healthy

Nina Finley writes about her experiencing visiting ASRI Kids, Alam Sehat Lestari's education program for 5th graders. This is the third in a series of blog posts from Nina. (Read more about Nina's travels on her blog Natural Selections.)

Photo: Nina Finley

Education is one of the five prongs of Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), the conservation-healthcare initiative in Indonesian Borneo where I'm a volunteer.

The five prongs of ASRI are:

  1. Monitor
  2. Provide healthcare
  3. Find alternative livelihoods
  4. Educate
  5. Restore

Each of these prongs is supported by multiple projects on the ground. To learn about prong five, Restore, you can read Rainforest's Rebirth, my recent post about the Laman Satong reforestation nursery.

Over the past three weeks, I've been directly involved with prong four,Educate through ASRI Kids. This program teaches fifth graders about Planetary Health topics ranging from nutritious eating and hand washing, to wildlife and ecosystems, to sustainable living. It's led by the wonder-woman educator, Etty Rahmawati, and her talented co-worker, "Amad" M. Zulkarnaen.

Etty poses with our resident selfie orangutan | Photo: Nina Finley

Amad, with blender for making paper | Photo: Nina Finley

The magic of ASRI Kids lies in its combination of accurate knowledge with hands-on activity. One of the kids' favorite projects is making recycled paper. They learn to be creative with trash, appreciate forest resources, and reduce waste.

The kids watch Amad strain a piece of paper | Photo: Nina Finley

Behind the scenes, I've spent much of my time crafting new curriculum for Etty to use in her ASRI Kids classes. So far, I've made PowerPoints about mangrove swamps, coral reefs, climate change, plastics, microbes, zoonotic disease, and the lemurs of Madagascar. Climate change was a big hit with ASRI Teens. For the first time, the teens understood the connection between deforestation and sea level rise -- and why there is a giant poster of an iceberg in the ASRI clinic! They took a group photo with the iceberg and brainstormed ways to reduce emissions in Sukadana, like putting up signs at warungs (cafes) asking customers to think twice before requesting a plastic bag or straw. (Plastic trash is burned here because there is no landfill system.) Long story short, teens are awesome.

ASRI Teens pose with the iceberg. | Photo: Etty Rahmawati.

It's clear why education is one of ASRI's five prongs. As the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum said in one of my favorite quotes, "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."

Since its inception in 2012, the ASRI Kids program has reached 800 children across 23 schools. Alumni of the program can pass on the learning as ASRI Teens. Etty has watched with pride as several of her kids moved on to college, including one young woman who is now studying forestry in the West Kalimantan city of Pontianak.

As I watched the kids follow Etty down a jungle trail after my lemur class, I thought about how lucky ASRI is to have dedicated educators like Etty and Amad passing on their love and understanding of the world to the next generation.

Photo: Nina Finley


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