Bali, with a population of 4.2 million people, has long been a jewel in the crown of Indonesian tourism. But suffering from the impact of burgeoning tourist numbers, a throw-away culture and poor waste management, that crown is slipping.
Balinese traditionally carried food and goods in woven banana leaves and wooden or thatched containers, which would rot back into the landscape. It was historically a sustainable throw-away society. The advent of petroleum-based plastics changed that and in particular, the introduction of cheap plastic bags from China in the ‘90s sealed the island’s fate.
Beyond the devastating impact they have on marine life, plastic bags can only be disposed of in landfill and have a non-biodegradable life span of between 400 to 1000 years. At least that’s what some scientists think, but they’re not sure because plastic bags have only been on the planet for 80-odd years, since the 1930s.
Fuelled by the tourism boom and associated development over the past few decades, Bali’s already inadequate waste removal system can’t keep pace with the growing piles of rubbish. During the wet season, a considerable amount gets washed into the nearest watercourse and out to sea.
In 2016, foreign tourist visits to Indonesia were up 15 per cent to more than 12 million and holidaymakers visiting Bali hit a record high of 4.9 million, including 1.1 million Australians and nearly a million Chinese tourists.
Bali currently generates around 20,000 cubic metres of waste a day, half of which is plastic, according to government statistics. Only about 5 per cent of plastic bags used on the island are recycled.
The passion and persistence of the Wijsen sisters in their bid to clean up Bali is a product not only of their upbringing but of their ongoing education.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has referred to Green School Bali as the “most unique and impressive” school he has ever visited, while British airline icon and business entrepreneur Richard Branson said he had “never been more jealous” of kids in his life.
So what is it about Green School that makes kids want to save the planet?
The concept of permaculture, originally defined as “permanent agriculture”, was developed by Australian environmental researchers David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the mid-70s and referred to permanent agriculture based on natural ecosystems.
Holmgren, who broke new ground with the publication of Permaculture One at the age of 23, is viewed as the father of modern permaculture. Japanese agricultural scientist, farmer and author Masanobu Fukuoka, took the concept a step further with his analysis of the impact of social aspects on a sustainable system, expanding the term to define “permanent culture”. It is a philosophy which has grown to include ecological and environmental design, engineering and construction, integrated water resources management, sustainable architecture, self-maintained regenerative habitat and education.
Green School Bali is a reaction and an alternative to Western forms of education. Critics might call it “green brainwashing”, but if the apparent confidence, intelligence, passion, communication skills and maturity displayed by the Wijsden sisters is anything to go by, what’s wrong with that? Western education systems have been brainwashing students with cultural, religious and jingoistic viewpoints for generations.
Green School began in 2006 as a concept pursued by Canadian John Hardy and his wife, Cynthia. As a child struggling with dyslexia, John Hardy remembered “crying his way to school”. In 2007, the couple sold their successful Balinese silver jewellery making business, which they had launched in 1975, to concentrate on Green School. Along with their finances, the Hardys brought to the Green School drawing board their passion for permaculture.
A private international school catering to students from pre-kindergarten to high school, Green School took shape among rice fields on the banks of the Ayung River, a 25-minute drive from the Balinese mountain town of Ubud. The concept of an environmentally-friendly, educational village community was inspired by, among other things, former US vice president Al Gore’s highly acclaimed environmental documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
Opening in September 2008, Green School Bali began with 90 students, growing to an intake of more than 400 students in 2017. But the price of a green education in an idyllic setting doesn’t come cheap. The first child admission fee is just over $A5000, a full year tuition fee for kindergarten entry is around $A14,800 and Year 9 – 12 student fees for a year are more than $A20,200.
Green School is based on an organic permaculture system. Built mainly with renewable resources including bamboo and mud walls, at the centre of the campus is an example of the versatility of modern engineering combined with Balinese craftsmanship, an intricately constructed, 60-metre long building on stilts made from bamboo. The school uses renewable energy, including solar power and micro-hydro power and operates three 18-seat bio buses which run on recycled cooking oil.
Senior students use laptops and the school’s curriculum covers Early Years, Primary School, Middle School and High School, offering special programs including green studies, environmental science, entrepreneurial learning and creative arts.
Now approaching its 10-year anniversary, John and Cynthia Hardy believe Green School has become more relevant.
With a campus of children and teenagers from 33 nationalities, along with 31 Balinese students and 9 more local students joining in 2017/18, the school continues to grow, fuelled by the Hardys’ belief that “we owe our children an education that focuses on the whole child, equipping them with the skills to not just get a job, but to become green leaders in a world that desperately needs them”.
On a visit to Bali in August, I saw little sign of a dent in the plastic refuse being churned out by the island’s consumption-based, throw-away economy. The ubiquitous plastic bag could be seen being carried by shopping tourists everywhere, making it hard to imagine how local authorities can hope to make a recognisable impact on their prolific use by the deadline of January 2018, only four months away.
We obviously need more Melatis and Isabels in this world.
Continued from – Bali: Plastic Purgatory or Green Dream? – Part 1
Traditional village in Bali – Wikimedia creative commons
All other photos by Green School Bali