By Heather Pong Yen Ting
The Roots & Shoots (R&S) Awards was organised to celebrate the green efforts of young people in Singapore. To commemorate the efforts of these youths, the Roots & Shoots (R&S) Awards and Gathering 2017 was held at Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) (RGS) on 17 November 2017, the last day of school for most of the participants. The event was attended by representatives from RGS, Singapore American School (SAS), Chung Cheng High School (Main) (CCHM), Commonwealth Secondary School (CSS), MINDS Woodlands Gardens School and Republic Polytechnic (RP).
In his opening address, Mr Richard Hartung, JGIS board member and treasurer, congratulated the R&S groups present for the inspirational work that they had done. Highlighting cross-border opportunities to work on projects with JGI Australia, he called on participants to continue to “embrace leadership and creativity”.
In an effort to help students in their R&S projects in 2018, R&S advisory council member Ms Tan Beng Chiak presented a workshop on planning a R&S campaign. She shared the ‘formula’ to success, which started with getting engaged with a campaign, followed by mapping, taking action and finally, celebrating.
Ms Tan then shared an example of how a simple coastal cleanup that led to a conservation project to help hermit crabs in Taiwan. When participants saw how crabs were turning to plastic garbage as homes, they brainstormed ideas to turn the situation around. Subsequently, they decided to get used shells from seafood restaurants and delivered them to the beaches for the crabs to use as homes instead.
Equally inspiring was the example shown by of primary school student Benz Chong, who took it upon himself to observe and record the time spent by long-tailed macaques on their various daily activities. Contrary to common perception, Benz found that the macaques spent a mere 6% of their time engaged in interactions with humans. His research findings lent a new perspective on the rising problem of human-macaque conflict.
Finally, Ms Tan concluded the presentation by calling on participants to clarify their campaign goals and ways to measure their success. She also presented an upcoming JGIS-initiated R&S campaign in 2018 to reduce plastic waste. While the ideas for past projects had been proposed by R&S groups, JGIS will lead this particular campaign, which targets probably the most pressing environmental problem that we face currently – plastic waste. With a parting reference to The Ocean Cleanup, a project to clean the ocean of floating plastic debris which was started by a Dutch youth, Boyan Slat, she exhorted the audience to “change the default”.
The spotlight was then turned upon the participants, who briefly introduced themselves and their respective projects.
Students then separated into groups, each consisting of a mix of representatives from all schools present. They then worked together on an activity. Ms Tan told the students the story of how a 3M employee accidentally created a new adhesive – one that did not stick properly. At that time, it seemed like a failure as a product, but when it was combined with the Post-It, it had a revolutionary result which is now familiar to most of us today. Ms Tan gave the groups the directive for their activity, which was to come up with ‘really bad ideas’ on how to reduce plastic waste that could turn out to be brilliant ones. One of the popular ideas from the day was to “destroy, burn and bury plastic” while converting the toxic gases generated into energy.
The teachers, meanwhile, worked in a separate group to discuss their different initiatives in their schools, and exchanged ideas on new ways to further engage the community.
Following this, Mr Steve Early from SAS, who is also a JGIS board member and secretary, talked about the Blue Plan. He also highlighted that it will be International Year of the Reef in 2018, noting that it would be the impetus for citizen scientists to renew their plans and make recommendations for conservation.
On that note, the awards ceremony and presentation commenced. The inaugural R&S Awards forms part of the mission to create a worldwide network of young people who have learnt to care deeply for their human community, animals and for the environment. Submissions from individuals and groups within the Singapore R&S Programme were judged based on their impact and their creative solutions to create a positive change within these three areas.
The R&S Bronze Award went to a group from Raffles Girls’ School. As part of their outreach efforts, they had created a fingerprint banner, organised an educational video screening as well as presented assembly talks at Bishan Park Secondary School and Guangyang Secondary School. The team had also put together a Character and Citizenry Education (CCE) lesson plan to be implemented in schools, and shared this with the CCE branch at the Ministry of Education.
Republic Polytechnic won the R&S Silver Award with their project of building a butterfly garden. The team representative shared the challenges faced, the sense of satisfaction upon completion of the garden and the joy of seeing the first butterflies visit. There were even plans to connect the garden to Admiralty Park!
Punggol Secondary School won the R&S Gold Award with their Environment Club’s waste management project. Though they were unable to receive the award personally, their efforts in reducing food waste in their community and raising awareness about them through an exhibition and campaign were highlighted to the audience.
The most outstanding Group Endeavour Award, for the best collaborative effort between two institutions, went to Creative O Preschoolers’ Bay and the MINDS school for their school greening programme. Children with disabilities from the MINDS school took on the role of big brothers and sisters in guiding the little ones from Creative O. They also won the Singapore Environment Council’s Outstanding Project Award.
Last but not least, the most outstanding Individual Endeavour Award went to Miles Hamilton from SAS, for his self-published and illustrated book titled “Endangered Animals in Singapore”. Though he was unable to attend due to illness, representatives from SAS read his thank-you letter, which detailed his desire to write a book for other children so that they may learn more about Singapore’s threatened fauna and the need to protect them.
From the projects shared, it was apparent that the seeds of love and care for the environment have sprouted among this particular group of young people. We’re excited for these shoots to take firmer root, and for new shoots of fresh ideas for environmental stewardship to continue to push through, year after year.